WATERING a property can now be done with a click of the mouse, writes COLIN TAYLOR
What used to take Dingee farmer Peter Sexton up to 12 hours to do can now be handled in a few moments - without even leaving home.
With the click of a mouse, Peter can water the 28 paddocks on his 120ha dairy farm, Lockneell Park, at will, thanks to a radical overhaul of his operations completed six months ago.
Little wonder he describes the change as "magic".
Originally from Toolleen, Peter and wife Donna, from Charlton, share-farmed at Lockington and Nanneella before buying at Dingee in 1994. It is there they have raised their three children - Rebecca, Bill and Tess - and established their milking herd of about 260 cows, mostly Friesians.
These days, the Sextons run the farm largely by themselves, with periodic short-term help from overseas backpackers.
They have some dryland crop they use for hay and a secondary 18ha block grows oats, vetch and lucerne.
The Sextons were among the first in the area to upgrade under the Northern Victoria Irrigation Renewal Project.
NVIRP was set up as a state-owned entity in 2007 to plan, design and deliver Australia's largest irrigation modernisation project in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District.
On July 1, it was merged with Goulburn-Murray Water and its work will continue under G-MW's banner until its completion in 2018.
Mr Sexton said the first stage of the farm's upgrade was project managed by Tatura-based civil engineer Planright, with funding through NVIRP.
"Initially, we had one line going to one end of the property and one to the other, both with blank ends," Peter said. "For the second stage, we applied for money from the Commonwealth where you give up half the water savings to the Government and keep the other half. With that funding, we looped the whole system up and automated it."
The Sextons' water is taken from a G-MW main channel which stretches to Pyramid Hill.
This year, the farm has access to 100 per cent of its 350 megalitres, but carry-over from last season doubles that.
"We've installed two 250mm Flowserve pumps with variable-speed 22kW electric motors, plus a pressure pump for stock and domestic water," Peter said.
Two 355mm pipes send water from the channel into a full loop around the farm, which is divided into 28 bays, most of about 3ha.
All paddocks have been laser-levelled to a 1:650 fall.
Risers are powered by solar panels and are controlled via the home computer and a private radio frequency network.
Peter waters two bays at a time, the smaller ones taking an hour and 20 minutes and the larger ones three to four hours. A drain at the foot of each paddock captures any run-off and sends it to the six-megalitre reuse dam, which has its own pumphouse connected to the system.
The Sextons have covered the cost of their pumping power by installing a 4.4kW solar power generating system.
Peter said the project was 18 months in the planning, but only three months to complete.
"Before this, we watered a lot more slowly and had many more weeds in the pasture - now it's all clover and ryegrass," Peter said.
"That means better output from the cows and production is building all the time. Last year, the herd produced milk solids of about 310kg of butterfat and 250kg of protein and about 7000 litres of milk per cow. We're increasing our cow numbers as well. We started at about 200 and, by this time next year, should be up around 300. Before the change, if I'd wanted to water the far end of the farm, it might have taken 12 hours just to get the channel filled.
"Now I just push a button on the computer and within two seconds I've got water anywhere I want. This is just magic."