A NEW study in the State's South West is aiming to calculate the economic returns for every megalitre of water used for irrigation in horticulture.
The Food Agility CRC project is taking place in Manjimup and is being led by Curtin University in collaboration with the WA Government, Southern Forest Food Council, local farmers and technology companies.
The three-year project is targeting avocado, apple, wine grape, stone fruit, vegetable and truffle farms, which make up about 90 per cent of horticultural production in the Warren-Donnelly catchment.
Curtin University Centre for Crop and Disease Management director Mark Gibberd said the project would clearly demonstrate the potential economic returns to farmers of improved irrigation efficiency.
"We see the assessment of return on investment and agribusiness risk as being a really important research and development frontier for all of our ag industries," professor Gibberd said.
"Looking at return on investment on inputs like water for irrigated horticulture is a really important part of that.
"To be able to break it down across different commodities across the region in order to understand the economic significance for an individual farm and to the region itself, is a critical step to take."
As part of the project, digital water flow meters and soil moisture probes will be installed on multiple blocks of each produce type, measuring how much water is being used in real time.
The farmers involved will be able to see, via an online dashboard, their daily water use and soil moisture, as well as be able to compare their irrigation with cumulative evaporation over the season and see data on recent and forecasted rainfall.
Professor Gibberd said the Manjimup area was very reliant on surface water runoff to fill small dams for individual farmers to irrigate their crops.
"Historically we have seen significant changes in rainfall patterns and heading into the future we expect to become more and more water limited," he said.
"As that happens we expect the water demand for crops will increase.
"Crops which currently receive small amounts of supplementary irrigation may need more in the future so we expect pressure on the system."
At the end of the season, the water productivity for each commodity type (profit per mega litre), will be calculated and farmers will be able to see their water data and how their block performed compared with other de-identified farmers in their group.
After two seasons, the team will aggregate the data to create a regional model of water use for agriculture and its flow-on economic benefits, for example to local businesses, health and education.
Food Agility CRC chief executive officer Mike Briers hopes the Manjimup trial will become an example of efficient, data-driven water management for other agricultural regions.
"We want to show how the value of water flows through farms into local communities, supporting the businesses and services that make up life in a regional town," Dr Briers said.
The data collected from the project will help farmers make short and long-term decisions about farm management.
It will benefit not only the Warren-Donnelly catchment but will also be a pilot for other horticultural production communities.