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Richmond veggie growers get top dollar with better irrigation

CHALLENGE

Sick and tired of water wastage and irregular sized crops

Val and Sam Micallef grow veggies northwest of Sydney in the Richmond region where they produce corn, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower, silverbeet, potatoes, and leeks. The second generation of their family to grow vegetables, Val and Sam’s progressive approach to farming means they’re always investigating and trialling new ways to improve their crops and ensure the long-term sustainability of their business.

In 2017 the brothers were fed up. Val says, “We were sick and tired of water wastage, not being able to get into the field because it was too wet. And we were sick and tired of having to get up at 3:00am to move aluminium pipes around the fields. In winter it was a killer.”

Aaron Ramsay from Nelson Irrigation explains, “Their irrigation was a typical heritage system that had developed piecemeal over time, and it was a bit of a mess. Sprinklers weren’t sized correctly, spacing was wrong and they were using drip irrigation in the wrong areas. As a result, they had massive water run-off issues, the farm was a muddy bog, and they could see the evidence in variable quality crops.”

Val recalls, “Our old bitzer sprinkler system gave us crops that were too small, too big, or water damaged. There was just no consistency and we’d had enough. We wanted a new irrigation system offering high uniformity, using the best technology available to help reduce water usage, and we were prepared to invest.”

SOLUTION

Instant start up and shut down reduces run off

Val and Sam like to do their research, so they thoroughly tested all the suitable sprinkler brands on the market. While they were doing their trials, they went to a field day at Western Sydney University, saw Nelson rotator series sprinklers on display and thought they looked like they might be their answer.

Their local irrigation dealer contacted us, and we gave Val and Sam a range of Nelson samples to trial. They concluded the standout was our recommended Nelson R2000 sprinkler with the 50psi Mini Regulator Drain Check (MRDC).

Val explains, “We particularly liked the R2000 and MRDC combo. In the past we had major run off after irrigation, and we were washing away expensive herbicides on start-up, which was causing environmental issues. The MRDC is worth every cent. Our lateral lines come up to 55psi, and bang, all the sprinklers come on at once. Then they all turn off below 50psi. It’s good to watch. No more water wastage.”

Each block is controlled by a Nelson 1000 series 3” plastic valve. Typically, a 4” valve would be specified in this situation, but because of 1000 series superior flow a 3” valve does the job, offering the brothers major cost savings.

Val and Sam had experienced quality issues with the 2” sub main valves they used for manual sprinklers on growing beds. Handles broke and the valves corroded in sunlight. They wanted a more robust 2” manual valve, and Aaron recommended Nelson 1000 series 2” plastic valves to individually control each bed.

The brothers retrofitted their farm in stages, installing the full system over about 18 months. Each stage used 600 sprinklers with 50psi MRDC’s spaced at 11.5m x 11.5m, a 434” 1000 series valve, and 15 x 2” 1000 series manual valves. 104 x 2” valves were also installed to manually operate separate growing beds as required.

As well as instant start up and shut down reducing water waste and herbicide wash out, their new irrigation is a permanent set system designed for full coverage, so no more getting at 3:00am in the morning to move freezing pipes. Relief!

RESULTS

Better crops and better prices at market

Sam and Val are delighted with their new irrigation saying, “Our new Nelson Irrigation system gives us all we wanted. The pressure regulators mean we’re not over watering, we don’t have start up wastage and we don’t have run off anymore. We’ve got more uniform water coverage and more control, so our veg is more uniform in size and we’re getting a better price for it. This can especially be seen in our corn crop. We can see the returns and we’re extremely happy.”

Aaron explains many growers struggle with underperforming irrigation. ‘We see similar issues all the time. Growers buy their irrigation systems over time as their farm grows, or their needs shift. They often go for cheap sprinklers because they seem like a good deal.”

His advice for other growers is to make a considered plan for your irrigation and to trial sprinklers like Val and Sam did before you choose a solution. And he says, “The cheapest sprinkler isn’t always the best. Nelson may not be the cheapest irrigation products, but if you look at how long they last, how little maintenance they require, the water you save, and the increase in the value of your crops, Nelson irrigation systems are an investment, rather than an expense.”