A floody good time in Keith

Bearing in mind the amount of rain I’ve seen in Australia so far, it’s hard to get my head around the idea that the land is not usually so green and irrigation systems are vital to crop production.

The farm I’m currently staying on is owned by Brendan Smart, a Nuffield scholar from a few years back. He bought 2000 acres of farmland in Keith about 30 years ago and has since then built it up to an incredibly profitable 13,000acre enterprise, producing sheep, barley, wheat, oats and lucerne seed (which is exported to the US and Middle East).

Without a pretty extensive flood irrigation system though, this land would be nowhere near as productive as it is. To me, the soil looks as though it’s in the fallout zone of a nuclear explosion – just look at the profile:

Dodgy soil

That’s six inches of sand on top of clay on top of rock. Nice, eh? Every paddock is full of giant lumps of stone too, meaning special equipment is needed to cope with the rough terrain.

Because of the sandy soil water drains away fairly quickly, so a rather snazzy watering system has been set up to ensure the lucerne doesn’t dry out. Each field is separated into four or five blocks which have small banks built around them. Each block is completely flooded using metered water pumped from groundwater supplies, with the flow maintained thanks to these sensors, which can work out when the water reaches the end of the block.  Here’s Ian, Brendan’s irrigation and spraying manager, in demonstration mode:

Irrigation

The process can take up to eight hours for each block and needs to be repeated every couple of weeks over the summer, so it’s a pretty big job. Ian says some people struggle with the idea of so much water being used to produce a crop which is exported, but due to the soil structure the majority of the water returns straight back to the water table, meaning its almost a system of water recycling.

As well as an irrigation system I’d never seen before, the farm also has a kind of pet I’d never seen either. Meet Basil:

Basil and me

Apparently I didn’t scream as much as Peckie when I saw him…

A big thank you to Ian and Nicola for a fab couple of days and for making me feel so welcome. It’s been great to make two new friends, hopefully we won’t have seen the last of each other…

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