In 2021, Don Ruggiero of Swanport Harvest began to farm a new property near Langhorne Creek on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia. Winds off nearby Lake Alexandrina lessen summer heat and help prevent winter frosts, making this one of the few regions in Australia where lettuce can be grown year-round.
Swanport Harvest are South Australia’s largest growers of lettuce and broccoli, and the quality of their crops are crucially important to them. The Langhorne Creek property grows iceberg lettuce for Swanport Harvest’s premium StayCrisp brand.
When Don bought the property there were already two pivot irrigators on the land. In Australia, it’s unusual for salad crops to be watered with pivot irrigators as they’re not often grown on the large field scale where pivot irrigators excel. However, at 125 hectares, the scale of the new Langhorne Creek property was large enough for Don to consider refurbishing the existing irrigators and giving pivot irrigation a go.
Irrigation expert Phil Caldecott from AusRain Irrigation recommended refitting the pivots with Nelson Irrigation sprinklers. Don already knew Nelson to be reliable, as Swanport Harvest’s original property near Murray Bridge is irrigated with R2000 Nelson Windfighters, so he agreed to trial the set-up although he cheerfully admits he knew nothing about pivots.
Over the next 18 months Don worked with AusRain and Nelson Australia to refit his existing pivot irrigators and install five more pivots. It was a significant project, with seven pivots and almost 800 sprinklers installed.
Sprinklers are spaced along each pivot’s 500m length for even coverage and even growth. O3030 Orbitor sprinklers are fitted with purple plates for a gentle droplet that soaks the tender salad leaves softly and thoroughly without causing damage or being affected by the prevailing wind.
The 3NV nozzle is a new dial-nozzle that allows growers to flush the nozzle, flush the line, and shut off sprinklers, all without removing the nozzle. You can turn off individual sprinklers to prevent overwatering, and clear blocked sprinklers with ease, making the irrigation system easier to install and maintain. The system also has Nelson control valves on pivot mainlines to turn pivots on and off, and a pressure drop kit makes it easy to keep an eye on system pressure.
Don’s pleased with his new pivots, saying: “We’re getting better uniformity and coverage, and there’s a lot better efficiency, we’re using 20-25% less water and less fertiliser. Also, we can water when it’s windy without seeing a big difference to distribution. We’ve Nelson’s permanent sprinklers on our other farm, and they’re great, but the pivots are even better in the wind.”
Pivot irrigation set-up has been a bit of a learning curve for Don. He’s experimented with different flow rates, and now runs two pivots simultaneously on a lower flow rate. He says: “The sprinklers are amazing, it’s just that fine tuning now. We’re seeing great results, but could they be even better?” Nelson Australia is working with Don on testing to identify any opportunities to optimise the system to deliver even greater results.
Don explains: “It’s pretty innovative growing lettuce on this scale using pivot irrigation. For pivots you’ve got to have volume. We’ve got that because we’re one of the biggest lettuce growers in Australia and we’re growing 100% iceberg lettuce on this property. We’ve been doing this successfully for 45 years, so people do notice what we do, and I wouldn’t be surprised if our results lead other salad growers to try pivot irrigation too.”