A Loddon Valley irrigator has been crowned Victorian Rural Water Awards champion, after transforming his Barraport West property from flood irrigation, to lateral irrigators.
Ben Leversha started his farming career with a ute, shovel and enough wheat to sow 30 hectares.
He has since been named regional winner in the Victorian Irrigation District Water Users category, before taking out the top prize. The Rural Water Awards are held every two years to reward Victorians who have developed or adapted clever ideas to better use water, deliver water savings, or drive productivity for their business.
Goulburn-Murray Water encouraged Mr Leversha to nominate for the prestigious statewide awards, earlier this year.
“Ben purchased the property in 2007 and has completely transformed it, moving from flood irrigation to using highly efficient lateral irrigators,” GMW customer relationship consultant Malcolm Pearson said.
“It is a brilliant example of water efficiency.”
Mr Leversha, originally from Bendigo and with a background in transport and logistics, continually learned along the way after embarking on farming at Barrapoort West, at the far end of the Waranga Western Channel.
He originally ran the business on his own, spending most of his time on the property but now employs three full-time staff.
Crop types to date have included corn, chickpeas, lentils, canola, barley, wheat and more recently sunflowers.
In the first year of owning the property, he watered 30ha armed with his ute and shovel; he didn’t even own a tractor. In the second year he expanded his irrigation footprint to 70 hectares and purchased a tractor, then 100ha for the third year and double that in the fourth.
Mr Pearson said Mr Leversha had zero re-use and zero water efficiency. By 2013, he realised that he was being let down by his lack of control over water.
“I knew I needed to make improvements to my irrigation infrastructure and thought if I’m going to spend money on bay outlets, then why not put that investment to better use and look at the alternatives,” Mr Leversha said.
Half the cost of his two 800-metre lateral irrigators were covered by an on-farm efficiency grant through the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.
The irrigators travel an astounding five kilometres before they make the trek back to the starting point.
Mr Leversha can control the speed of the irrigators from the palm of his hand, using his mobile phone and is immediately notified of any issues day or night.
It takes each lateral irrigator 96 hours - or four full days - for the 520 sprinkler heads to deliver the equivalent to an inch of rain.
To gain even more control over his water availability, Mr Leversha constructed a 300-megalitre dam on the property to provide protection from supply issues.
The dam stores the equivalent of 10 days’ irrigation water that can be used immediately if required.
Mr Leversha is now producing 2.5 tonnes of crops per megalitre of water use and aims to increase this to three tonnes.
To supplement his irrigation efficiencies, Mr Leversha also invested in two large drying silos which allowed the property to double crop.
The drying silos meant the crop was able to be harvested at a due date, rather than having to wait for the season conditions to be perfect.
“The crop can be stripped with a higher moisture content and dried later,” he said.
“The drying fans start automatically when required, as the sensors monitor the moisture content of the crop contained in the silo.
“There are air vents in the base of the silo, and an opening at the top to allow for the moisture rich air to leave the drying silos – similar to how a clothes dryer works.
He said he could harvest his barley crop on one day and three days later sow corn in the same footprint.
The Rural Water Awards are a partnership between VicWater, Goulburn-Murray Water, Southern Rural Water, Lower Murray Water, Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water and Coliban Water.