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Dairy Water for Profit – extension in a changing environment

Ross Warren1, John Miller2, Greg Stanley3, Geoff Johnston4 and Mervyn Jessen5

1 Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, PO Box 395, Gympie, Qld 4570. Email
Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries. Murgon Qld 4605. Email
Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries. Bundaberg Qld 4. Email
Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries. Mutdapilly Research Station, Peaks Crossing, Qld 4.
Irrigation Association of Australia. 32 Herron Rd, Gympie, Qld 4570.


The Rural Water Use Efficiency MKII project is collaboration between the Department of Natural Resources - Mines and Energy, Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries and the Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation. The team is focussed on providing an extension service to dairy farmers to facilitate the adoption of practices that improve on farm water management. Various modes of extension are being used to disseminate information, including workshops, field days, mass media, demonstration sites, study tours and one on one extension. Dairy farmers are renowned for their rapid uptake of new technology. However, the advent of drought and low milk prices has made life difficult for farmers and has provided a challenge to the project team in delivering extension programs. Recognising, developing and delivering effective extension programs in a constantly changing rural environment have been part of the team’s success.

Media Summary

Adapting extension models to unique situations is the key to successful delivery of extension programs.

Key Words

Extension models, practical approach, action planning.


Effective irrigation and water use efficiency are the precursors to reliable dairy production in Queensland now and in the future. The Rural Water Use Efficiency project aims to assist farmers achieve profitable irrigation through innovative extension methods.

The project is a successful alliance between government and industry to deliver what the industry wants. The project is funded by the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries with the Queensland Dairy Farmers Organisation the industry organisation that has contracted the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries to deliver the extension program. The project team has linked with the Irrigation Association of Australia and other irrigation specialists to provide a program that achieves water use efficiency.

To achieve the objectives of this project it has been important to develop research and extension programs that would be beneficial to all stakeholders and motivate state-wide change within the dairy industry to achieve water use efficiency.

The project has taken a systematic approach to improve irrigation productivity. This has involved working through all aspects of irrigation with farmers to identify what makes a real difference.

To identify changes that had the most impact on profitability from irrigation it has been important to work through a logical progression of issues. These issues are presented under a strategic and operational framework.

As part of the project a financial incentive scheme (FIS) allowed producers to avail themselves of funding to upgrade irrigation equipment and systems generally. The scheme provided producers with the finance needed to improve their irrigation and alter management to reach goals set by the project.

Several extension models have been used and include: the Transfer of Technology model (TOT), the Resource Model of Extension (RME) and the Farmer First model (FF) (Jessen, 2002). The resource model has been the predominant model, however, a number of aspects of the other two models have been incorporated and moulded to assist with delivering an effective extension program.


In the initial stages of the project RWUE officers concentrated on irrigation scheduling. It was quickly realised after several irrigation system audits and reflection by the team that the performance of many irrigation systems were well below industry recommendations.

Based on the reviewing and planning by the team it was necessary to rectify the performance problems associated with irrigation systems on farm before officers could address scheduling issues, officers also developed complementary program activities including audits, as well as other irrigation management and production systems that ensured water use efficiency issues were always paramount. The Kolb’s learning cycle is one of the methods continually used by the team to develop effective extension programs. Whether it be on-farm trials, field days or the use of national experts we have always structured extension activities around telling, showing and doing.

Making a conscious effort to discuss strategic and operational issues with producers has been valuable for the team and farmers. Understanding the factors that are controllable and uncontrollable within the farming system and the effects of a change in management has been important in achieving the project goals.

The predominant extension model being used is the Resource Model (RME). Figure 1. Illustrates that all three models have been used to satisfy the diverse requirements of the adoption program. (Jesssen, 2002)

Figure 1. The three extension models used and their application to extension activities (Jessen, 2002).


The economic, production and resource benefits to the farming community have been extensive. Coupled with potential water savings in the dairy industry of 14% there have also been significant productivity gains in terms of improved pasture and crop growth of approximately 10%. The positive feedback from industry indicates the practical nature and hands on approach the project offers has been appreciated by producers. 68 % of pasture irrigators participated in extension activities.

The major targets for the dairy industries RWUE adoption program were:

  • 11% (achieved 14%) water use efficiency (WUE). This has been achieved by a combination of increasing production from irrigated pasture, crops and reducing water use.
  • A proactive education extension program covering the state has achieved best management practice (BMP) gains of 40% over the life of this program.
  • Cultural change achievements of 72% (participation and awareness across both dairy and lucerne industries).

A total of $1,494,266 was made available to producers in the dairy and lucerne industries under the Rural Water Use Financial Incentive Scheme. Forty two percent of farmers took this opportunity. The scheme, with farmer inputs, invested $7 million into dairy and lucerne irrigation infrastructure within the first two years of operation. This has aided rapid change in water use efficiency


Water is a government priority and the RWUE project has and will continue to be successful. The project has delivered dollar value to the industry along with water savings & efficiency. Through the continual reviewing, planning generalising and acting?? the activities developed focus areas that heightened the uptake of water use efficiency practices. Trials and demonstrations on irrigation efficiency are conducted under normal farming conditions. The rural water use efficiency (RWUE) team have identified management practices, both good and bad, that irrigators may introduce, improve or alter in their own operations.

Along with the extension methodologies observed and implemented by the team a number of other factors have influenced the outcomes. The projects inception has coincided with prolonged drought and water restrictions, making water use topical.

There is also no doubt that the financial incentive schemes have facilitated the purchase of equipment to improve irrigation management on farm. The cooperation with other industries and linkages within the irrigation industry has also contributed to success.

The RWUE project has achieved much since its inception; however, we have only just started to make inroads to improving water use efficiency through effective extension.


Jessen M (2002). Philosophy and Practice of Extension: Learning Project. University of Queensland Rural Extension Centre Publication, Gatton, Qld.

Stanley G, Warren R and Johnston G (2004). Irrigation for Profit – three years from March 2000 – June 2003. DPI Publications, Brisbane, Qld 4001.

Roling N (1998). Extension Science: Information Systems in Agricultural Development. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 49 – 51.

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