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Tasmanian irrigators take to the skies with drones

Farmers in Tasmania’s Bothwell region are making use of drone technology in preparation for the Southern Highlands Irrigation Scheme.

The $31 million project has been set up to provide water to farmland that is otherwise unfit for crop production.

The scheme will funnel excess water from the Shannon River to properties across the district, and some farmers are planning to make the most of the new water source by using drones.

Bothwell district farmer WIll Bignell told ABC Online that digital farming technology has a crucial role to play in making the most of the new scheme.

"For us to get water here was never cost effective, and [the scheme] has opened up this end of the farm to double our irrigation area and really increase our intensification and spread our risk," Bignell said.

Bignell said he has invested in drones to create detailed irrigation maps, which will allow him to implement precision irrigation techniques that will help ensure water from the scheme is applied as effectively as possible.

"Farming is pretty clever these days; we're not the bumpkins everyone seems to think we are," he said

"I'm going to work towards high utilisation with pastures and specialty fodders and use the water from the scheme quite smartly. It's a lot more expensive than what we're used to, so I've got to be very smart."

Pumps at the Southern Field dam were switched on last month, but Southern Highlands Irrigation Scheme Chairman Richard Hallett said hopeful irrigators still have a while to wait before the scheme is in full swing.

"Realistically, we probably need another 50mm over the next month or six weeks in order to fully harvest what we need for the forthcoming season,” Hallett said.

Once the water starts flowing, Hallett hopes the region will experience an economic upturn thanks to the boost in agricultural activity.

"It's going to provide a lot of employment, and it will really transform a lot of the small regional communities around Bothwell that have been in population decline for many years," Hallett said.

Interested in learning more about innovation and technology in the Tasmanian water industry? The Tasmanian State Conference is happening on 24 August. Click here to learn more and register.