Interview: Dr Chantal Donnelly, Head of Water Resource Modelling at the Bureau of Meteorology

Ahead of her workshop at IAICE 2018,“How can weather, water and climate data contribute to irrigation decision making?” Chantal explains how through close discussions with irrigators and agronomy consultants on what decisions are made, the Bureau can make products specifically to help irrigators optimise water use and save money. Make sure you’re part of the discussion, where you’ll also hear about the latest brilliant developments in local-scale information on weather, soil moisture and stream flow for current and forecast conditions – make sure you are part of the discussion!

Q&A with Dr Chantal Donnelly, Head of Water Resource Modelling at the Bureau of Meteorology…

 Topic: “How can weather, water and climate data contribute to irrigation?”

 Your workshop aims to learn how recent developments in weather, water and climate data might contribute to planning, managing and operating irrigation. Why is this interaction with “on the ground” irrigators so important?

Although the Bureau produces a wide range of potentially useful data products relating to weather, water and climate, we’re interested to know how much of this data – beyond the standard weather forecasts – irrigators consider useful and use. We would like to put irrigators as a customer at the heart of our business and better understand what is important to them.

So, I would encourage anyone who wants better advice or decision guidance related to weather-water-climate to participate in, and contribute to, this workshop. Only through close discussions with irrigators and agronomy consultants specialising in irrigation advice on what decisions are made, can we start to produce really tailored products that can help irrigators optimise their water use and save money.

We are interested in:

Finally, we will present some of the latest developments in weather, water and climate data, as the irrigation industry may simply not be aware of the extraordinary developments in local scale information on weather, soil moisture and streamflow for current and forecast conditions that have been made in the past five years.

You’re also going to ask participants to contribute their ideas on how the Bureau can contribute to supporting irrigation decision making; again, why is this feedback and input important?

Only though truly understanding our customer’s needs can we create products that meet these needs. The Bureau’s new strategy for 2017-22, has a strong focus on adding impact and value to our customers. The ideas contributed at this workshop could potentially lead to data products tailored just for the irrigation industry.

In your view, in what ways can weather, water and climate data can contribute to irrigation decision making?

Again, we’d really like to listen to irrigators to learn this, but potentially, we think we could help irrigators optimise their planting and harvesting decisions, and water use, by combining their on-the-ground observations of current conditions with forecasts of weather, soil moisture, evapotranspiration and river flow/reservoir water availability.

This sort of forecasting can be done at short-term (0 to 10 day) and longer term (one month to seasonal) timescales. Projections of how water availability and conditions for growing different crops might be affected by climate change in the near and mid term may potentially be useful for longer-term investment decisions — such as buying or selling land, investing in irrigation infrastructure.

Of course, we realise there are many other things that affect these decisions than weather and water availability, so it would also be important to learn just how much value weather-water-climate data adds to these sorts of decisions or other data that the Bureau needs to consider through liaison or partnership.

You’ll also ask how Bureau data and insights could support using on-farm soil moisture probes. Does the Bureau see a strong link between irrigation and technology in the future?

The Bureau is now expanding its offerings to include national forecasts of soil moisture and evapotranspiration at a 1km or 5km grid across the country. Combining this forecasting system with current on-farm conditions, measured by soil probes, could potentially help improve forecast reliability.

What is your longer-term view of the irrigation industry and what will be its greatest challenge? Where do you think irrigation is headed in the next 5 to 10 years?

What will influence and impact it?

I see the potential of the Internet of Things (IOT) being harnessed to provide much more detailed on-farm information, and potentially link into water and weather models to provide better information. As computing power has increased, so has the ability to provide local-scale weather and now water (soil moisture and evapotranspiration) forecasts which could change the way decisions are made.

In terms of challenges, the future of the Murray Darling Basin Plan is in question, and climate change and population increase will most likely increase water stress; this will not be in all years, but we may expect years with water stress more often.

At the same time, we are also seeing farmers and farm managers with very high levels of technical expertise and education, and an agricultural industry that is trying to lead the world in efficiency and production. As a result, perhaps we might see really optimised planting and water-use decisions that combine weather-water-climate data with soil nutrient condition, market-price data and other important factors all provided in decision support systems.







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