Irrigation during drought periods

Even in drought circumstances, when it is important to make best use of your irrigation and water resources, the underlying reasons for deciding to grow vegetables do not change.

Growing vegetables for the right reasons

You should choose to grow specific vegetable crops because you have:

  • identified niche domestic markets or highly profitable export opportunities
  • managerial, resource and financial capacities to grow high-quality products, with access to good market intelligence and effective marketing strategies
  • a climate suitable for producing high-quality products.

Do not decide to grow vegetables just because you feel they will give a higher return on your irrigation investment. Recognise that the Australian domestic vegetable market is oversupplied, with consistently low prices and rare peaks.

During drought, there may be opportunities to access markets that usual suppliers are unable to satisfy. You need to clearly identify those markets and organise to supply them specifically, rather than rely on the chance that there will be a demand when your product is being harvested. Remember that most major vegetable producers will be doing everything they can to ensure they maintain their supply volumes, retain market share and meet obligations.

If you are considering becoming a new vegetable producer, you may find opportunities to develop a growing/marketing arrangement with larger producers, taking advantage of their established expertise and contacts.

Sensible irrigation of vegetables

Even in drought situations, the 3 basic management requirements for irrigating vegetable crops must be met in the following order of priority:

  1. Use an irrigation system able to deliver the correct amount of water when the crop needs it and at an economical rate. There is no profitable market for poor-quality produce harvested from vegetable crops that were under- or over-watered because of an inappropriate irrigation system.
  2. Ensure that the application of water is as uniform as possible across the paddock. Margins are too tight to not sell a substantial proportion of the crop because it was watered differently from the rest.
  3. Where possible, schedule irrigation using objective, cost-effective monitoring systems. Optimal water application results in marketable produce and the most efficient use of a scarce resource. A range of soil moisture sensors are commercially available to match irrigation to crop demand for optimal water use efficiency.

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