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New irrigation supply system pays off at Burnewang North

Friday 7 November, 2014

Cathy Hains


"If you want a fast horse, you'd better buy some good grass" is the slogan plastered across Burnewang North's banners.

The property - located between Rochester and Elmore on the Campaspe River - is owned by thoroughbred horse breeder Cathy Hains who says the slogan is perhaps better described as a belief or even a conviction.

Ms Hains purchased Burnewang North in 2006 because she wanted to breed and raise the best horses in the best area.

"What we pride ourselves on is that these horses have the benefit of being born and raised on the very best growing land in Victoria," Ms Hains said.

The horses are grown on a nutrition program based on the property's irrigated lucerne crops.

"This provides the ideal building blocks at the most crucial stages of their development," she said.

Water for irrigation is the lifeblood of the property. Without water there would be no summer pasture, no perfect growing land and a lot of dust.

It's why when the decision was made to dry off the Campaspe Irrigation District in 2011 through the Northern Victorian Irrigation Renewal Project (NVIRP), Ms Hains knew she had to find an alternative.

"We looked at many alternatives, including irrigation syndicates, but we were a little too far away from the Goulburn System so in the end we decided to investigate pumping from the Campaspe River," Ms Hains said.

However, the challenges weren't just access to water for irrigation. New more efficient methods of irrigating pastures were also needed.

NVIRP had made the decision to decommission the channels because flood irrigation was slow and inefficient. Open channels had been losing water through evaporation and seepage and the sandy soils slowed the entire flood irrigation process.

It was also at this time NVIRP was merged into Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW) and the project to revolutionize irrigation delivery in Northern Victoria became the GMW Connections Project.

GMW Modernisation Coordinator Mark Halden was given the task of working with the team at Burnewang North to ensure they could be reconnected.

Together they worked through the on-farm works required to decommission open channels and to develop solutions to allow for water diversion from the Campaspe Weir.

"The move meant the property was moving from an open channel irrigation supply to a river diverter where the connection was an electric powered pump site with three pumps," Mr Halden said.

"Two irrigation pumps were installed - one delivering a 10ML/day low pressure flow rate andanother a 1.5ML/day high pressure flow rate. A third stock and domestic supply pump was also installed."

The new delivery system now supplies water in two demand phases to suit the new irrigation methods.

The high pressure pump supplies the transportable sprinkler system and the low pressure pump pushes water to the pipe and riser irrigation system and can be used to fill a new 33ML recycle dam - enlarged as part of the farm's modernization plans.

"The hard hose sprinkler system means we can irrigate more land than before," Ms Hains said.

"And, while it is labour intensive, because the sprinklers need to be moved all the time we're growing a very valuable product here. The hard hoses enable us to keep green "pick" for grazing and also minimize dust in very dry conditions.

"We run a select band of 50 privately owned broodmares that have been carefully collected over the past six or seven years."

With Burnewang North progeny only just reaching racing age the team is witnessing promising results on the racetrack with metropolitan class winners and stakes performers in Australia and overseas.

Foals in this year's stables are even sired by So You Think - the Bart Cummings and Aiden O'Brien trained stallion with earnings in excess of $10 million as well as Melbourne Cup Winner Americain and Black Caviar's brother, All Too Hard.

Ms Hains firmly believes the future belongs to people who "think of ways to move with it".

"Old-fashioned irrigation methods are hard to sustain in tough economic and environmental conditions," she said.

And thinking outside the box has provided many benefits to Burnewang North.

One 32ha section of the farm's commercial cropping enterprise irrigated by the pipe and riser used to take 10 days to irrigate, today the same area can be irrigated in three days.

"These changes came at significant cost and the Government's subsidy via on-farm water efficiency grants were instrumental in helping us update systems," Ms Hains said.

In another section of land 10ML of water would need to flow through the open channel to retain 4ML to irrigate with. Now if 4ML is pumped through the pipe and riser system there's 4ML available for irrigation.

Ms Hains said they could now irrigate about 300 more hectares of pasture that was previously dry land.

"We continue to channel any available funds into these improvements across the farm," she said.

"As custodians of this extremely productive property we hope to send it into the future with the best production capabilities we can provide and water is liquid gold."

Farm manager Brendan Foott said the new irrigation system was "just so easy".

"This system has allowed us to put water on areas we never thought we could before," Mr Foott said.

"Poly pipes and risers cut down a lot of night work and this frees up labour for other things.

"With the old system I'd often be awake for 20 hours getting the watering done, now it's all automated I can just set it on the computer and leave it... and I'm confident with that, I trust it."