Drought and flooding rain, which in turn caused devastating crop losses, were the catalyst for Dalby cotton grain grower Adam McVeigh investigating the viability of a farming program focused on double cropping under overhead irrigation.
Keenly aware of nature’s volatility the 2015 Nuffield Australia Scholar developed a resilient double cropping program with the goal of achieving a sustainable rotation, which was not only financially safe, but also profitable.
The Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) sponsored Mr McVeigh’s research into the program, which is based around centre pivot irrigation.
Mr McVeigh said fluctuation in rainfall, along with increasing environmental demand and legislative changes has driven massive innovation and advancements in Australian irrigation practices over the past 20 years.
“As a consequence, there has been a significant increase in the area irrigated with centre pivot and lateral move systems, with the two leading factors driving the adoption of these systems being labour and water savings,” he said.
“Farm businesses often have a low risk capacity for a number of reasons, but primarily due to high debt levels, which is common for farmers who are just starting out or recovering from a natural disaster.
“So one of my objectives was to provide information that will assist farmers with a low risk capacity to plan a high yield, double cropping rotation for their centre pivot irrigation.
“I believe consecutively producing two crops on the same land, within the same growing year can increase cash flow, and I have found that it is actually common practice in many parts of the world.”
The grain grower from Queensland’s western downs said one of the advantages of this practice is the spread of income across the year. If one crop fails due to a natural disaster, there will still be income from the other crop.
Also the delay after crop destruction to planting the next crop is reduced, thereby bringing the next harvest or income around faster, which Mr McVeigh said can be crucial during times where growers are recovering from natural disasters. Mr McVeigh’s research took him around the world, including Brazil, China and the USA and said his time in Brazil and the USA in particular highlighted the importance of a good integrated pest and weed management plan in order to prevent the build-up of resistance.
“Getting crop nutrition right is also paramount with double cropping. The increased cropping intensity can result in the progressive depletion of soil nutrients, so one option is to include a legume crop in the rotation to fix nitrogen into the soil and therefore reduce the synthetic nitrogen requirement for the following crop,” he said.
“My travels also opened my eyes to the potential to further develop the high moisture corn market in Australia, as this would open up opportunities for double cropping of two consecutive summer crops.”
He also found one issue common around the world – the cost of electricity.
“In Brazil, farmers only irrigate for 20 hrs/day due to the prohibitive cost of electricity during the four hours of highest energy demand by the large cities. At these times, the cost of electricity is so great that it becomes uneconomical to use for agriculture.
“On Australian irrigated cotton farms, the electricity cost per hectare has increased by 90% on the ten-year average and pumping water accounts for roughly half to three-quarters of all on-farm direct energy consumption. With this in mind, any improvement in irrigation energy efficiency will significantly reduce the total farm energy bill.”
The grower, who has a background in both dryland and irrigated farming, is an advocate of continued research and investment into alternative energy solutions for agricultural activities, such as irrigation pumping.
In the meantime, he says irrigators and industry need to lobby government for policies that generate more cost effective electricity.