As part of the CRCNA-funded Water Productivity, Efficient, and Sustainability in Tropical Horticulture project, three irrigation workshops were delivered across the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia. These events were designed to improve the capability of irrigation growers, encourage the adoption of water efficiency practices, and implement innovation in water management systems to improve farm management production. Each workshop was tailored to address the specific needs of growers across the three different regions. Attendance was strong with over 100 participants attending in total. Post-event survey feedback indicated that the workshops were well received and indicated a move toward practice change as a result.
NT Farmers Association, in collaboration with other industry stakeholders, have been delivering workshops and fields days to provide growers with opportunities to increase knowledge in irrigation techniques within different growing regions in the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia.
By delivering face to face workshops and in-field events, NT Farmers has been able to aid growers to develop new knowledge and skills with a local interactive and informative approach. Building on growers’ understanding in irrigation efficiency management systems and supporting them by developing better water management techniques can help growers prove best practices.
Acknowledging the four learning styles of visual, auditory, read/write and kinesthetic, (VARK learning model), workshops were designed to cater to all styles of learning, to ensure the content reached all the audience and the opportunity was maximized to educate growers and drive practice adoption. Peer to peer learning is a mutual learning and training strategy that involves participants of the same level engaging in collaborative learning. When delivering workshops in particular farming communities often the group will interact with each other to discuss areas of interest.
Trust and building on networks to develop relationships with growers to enable growers to take up new technologies and encourage irrigation monitoring practices. By providing translated materials at events can allow for any technical concepts to be understood. Then following up with surveys and farm visits after events can provide NT Farmers with insight on future direction.
The three workshops were delivered in different regions in the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia during the first half of 2023. Despite irrigation being the commonality, each region differed in crop/soil types, irrigation delivery systems and specific irrigation interests, such as different delivery systems for different crop types. For example, the Kununurra region of WA has a high proportion of long-established corporate farms as well as family farms with a mixture of crops grown such as sandalwood, broadacre crops and mangoes. While the top end of the NT is responsible for over half of Australia’s mango production, has a large proportion of family operated businesses and a large proportion of non-English speaking background growers who are predominantly vegetable growers. The aim was to cater for each region’s individual requirements to improve their irrigation management.
Workshops by Region
The workshop in Kununurra, northern Western Australia incorporated a presentation from James De Barro, Director of The Alpha Group, on using soil moisture probes to inform irrigation management decisions. Attendance was strong with fourteen people attending, including six growers, and eight service providers, research, and extension persons. Using data from existing local moisture probes and a weather station, the group was given relevant information for their region/area/crop types. The presentation content was designed to give the growers in the room an introduction to using soil moisture probes in their farming enterprise.
Following the workshop, a grower requested a one-on-one meeting to look over moisture monitoring data. This is a great result and shows interest in this area and a need to develop more skills in interpretation of soil moisture data.
An irrigation and soil workshop was held on Foxalicious Farm in the Katherine region NT, 300km south of Darwin and was delivered in conjunction with NT Farmers, Netafim and the Department of Environment Parks and Water Security. The purpose was to show best practices for integrating irrigation technology and developing knowledge of local soils to improve farm management practices. Seventy-five people attended the day which consisted of growers and farm staff, service providers, research and extension persons and others with an interest in irrigation efficiencies.
The day included in-shed presentations and discussions, with a field walk inspecting a soil pit in a mango orchard, looking at soil horizons, structures and how it reacts to differing irrigation systems and watering schedules. Additional technological showcases were an in-field valve assembly which included a radio-controlled unit with in-field filtration, then onto the pump shed inspecting the automatic disc filtration, fertigation and irrigation control and fertigation mixing tanks.
Participants were surveyed, identifying a high number (74%) believing water efficiency is a management priority, and positive results identifying 81% of participants are intending to use or investigate using soil moisture probes because of the event.
An extremely high number of attendees want more information about water efficiencies shown below in Graph 1. All areas of water efficiencies are important to the attendees with soil profile interactions with irrigation being the highest. This is important feedback for NT Farmers. With the project work that NT Farmers are already involved in, the direction of future projects and workshops will be guided by the needs of the industry.
Graph 1 Katherine Irrigation Workshop Participant Interest in Water Efficiency Information
Darwin – Marrakai Workshop
A recent grower’s workshop/field walk was held in Marrakai (pictured), to share information and updates on various NT Farmers projects which included VegNET, Biosecurity, and Water efficiency programs. A great turnout with eight growers attending (all from a non-English speaking background), plus eleven service providers, research, and extension people. A Vietnamese translator attended the meeting to supply any information in Vietnamese to ensure all knowledge was shared was understood.
The Marrakai growing region is located approximately 70kms east of Darwin on the Arnhem Highway. Many growers in this community are non-English speaking background producers which are generally of Asian backgrounds, predominantly Vietnamese. The success of any engagement activities with these communities depends on the use of translation services. Although most growers have some level of English skills, the mix of English and translated materials ensured that technical concepts are clearly understood by growers.
Survey results from the workshop participants were outstanding, showing interest in soil moisture monitoring was a massive 100% of attendees with a 100% improvement of knowledge of soil moisture probes. Continuing to build on developing relationships with growers by following up from this workshop attendees to ensure all information was delivered and understood.
Tailoring the content of irrigation workshops are essential when needs differ in each region; addressing the variables of specific crop types, soil types, irrigation delivery systems and specific irrigation interests will promote practice adoption by growers in irrigation practices on farm. By providing support, but most importantly ongoing support in terms of refining the information required by growers as a result of these workshops they will help the industry to implement the best management practices, aiming for improved gains in production, finance, and soil health. To ensure the content of any further training or future workshops, continued participant surveys will be undertaken to ensure events are relevant for the industry.
The author/s acknowledge the financial support of the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia which is part of the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centre Program (CRCP). The CRCNA also acknowledges the financial and in-kind support of the project participants