Smart water use over summer

Smart water use over summer

30 October 2017

Based on research conducted on more than 100 farms, DairyNZ Research Technician Caleb Higham estimates that 26 percent of stock drinking water is lost as leakage. “This wastes valuable water, causes areas of mud and flooding, and incurs extra pumping costs,” he says.

As demand grows on water resources in New Zealand, efficient practices around water use are essential. Over summer this can become more challenging, but there are smart ways to save water, money and time.

Start by reviewing your water use and making sure your systems are working properly before the hotter months arrive. Having leak detection systems and established procedures for dealing with leaks is important over the holidays, when farm managers or owners may be away. All staff should know how to manage any leaks and how to shut off the water if necessary.

On non-irrigated farms, summer is the best time to focus on fixing leaks. Caleb says fast leaks are usually noticed immediately and fixed quickly, but slow, low rate leaks are often not detected for a long time because the water system can cope with the leak. “They are generally only detected when they become a major leak, or in summer when green patches are noticed in brown paddocks. Although they are slow leaks, the volume of water adds up.”

One of the best ways to detect slow leaks and monitor water use is to have a water meter. This will help track seasonal and annual consumption, detect where water can be saved, and identify water efficiency options on-farm. A water meter is a valuable tool for any farm striving for sustainable water use. Detailed information about using water meters is available on the DairyNZ website.

Increased competition for water means the whole community is looking at how irrigators use water. Good irrigation not only benefits the wider community, but individual farms too, by helping pasture grow better and providing more feed for animals. Whatever the chosen system, irrigators should maximise the amount of pasture grown while using as little water as possible.

Once irrigation season begins on irrigated farms, it is important to keep an eye on soil moisture readings and weather forecasts. The biggest opportunity to improve water use efficiency is by irrigation scheduling, especially during the shoulders of the season. If you can stop irrigating for a day when rain is predicted, you will make significant water savings.

Applying the right amount of water at the right time to get maximum growth from pasture is crucial. Put on too much water and it drains away below the pasture, leaching out some of your expensive nutrients and slowing pasture growth. Leave it too late, and the plants may stress, which reduces growth rates. Watering tracks and other non-productive areas wastes water.

Maintaining and managing your irrigation system will minimise leaks and wastage. Leaks can reduce the operating pressure so the system doesn’t apply water evenly, leading to patchy pasture growth.

“Carrying out a ‘bucket test’ is the easiest way to work out the application depth, rate and how uniformly water is being applied during an irrigation event on-farm,” says Caleb. “The ‘bucket test’ method is based on collecting irrigation water in strategically placed buckets and measuring what water is collected over a certain period of time.” The Check It Bucket Test app, which is used in conjunction with a bucket test kit, can be downloaded for free at

Remember to check that water flow rates are suitable to supply enough water to stock in the peak of summer. Providing enough water to stock is essential for high milk production. Farmfact 5-19 covers the management of stock drinking water and can be downloaded at

Find out how your farm’s water use compares to other farms in your region and throughout New Zealand by using DairyNZ’s online Water Use Calculator at – and to learn more about saving water in the milking shed, head to

Article supplied by DairyNZ