Water award win for Loddon Valley farmer Ben Leversha

By Country News

Ben Leversha kicked off a career in farming with a ute, a shovel and enough wheat bags to sow just 30ha — now he is a state champion in the Rural Water Awards for the innovative irrigation practices he has brought to his large Loddon Valley cropping property.

Goulburn-Murray Water encouraged Mr Leversha to nominate for the prestigious statewide awards earlier this year.

He was named a regional winner in the Irrigation District Water Users category in October and at a gala award presentation in Melbourne on Friday, November 9, he topped the state.

‘‘Ben purchased the property in 2007 and has completely transformed it, moving from flood irrigation to using highly efficient lateral irrigators,’’ G-MW customer relationship consultant Malcolm Pearson said.

‘‘It is a brilliant example of water efficiency.’’

Mr Leversha, originally from Bendigo and with a background in transport and logistics, had to pick things up quickly and continually learn along the way after embarking on farming at Barrapoot West, at the far end of the Waranga Western Channel.

He originally ran the business on his own and spent most of his time tied to the property. He is now able to employ three full-time staff and enjoy a work/life balance with his wife Brodi and two daughters — Abby, 5, and Lucy, 3.

In the first year of owning the property he watered 30ha armed with his ute and shovel; he didn’t even own a tractor. In the second year he expanded his irrigation footprint to 70ha and purchased a tractor; then 100ha for the third year and double that in the fourth.

He had zero re-use and zero water efficiency. By 2013, he realised that he was being let down by his lack of control over water.

‘‘I knew I needed to make improvements to my irrigation infrastructure, and thought ‘if I’m going to spend money on bay outlets, then why not put that investment to better use and look at the alternatives?’,’’ Mr Leversha said.

Half the cost of his two 800m lateral irrigators was covered by an on-farm efficiency grant through DELWP.

These irrigators travel an astounding 5km before they make the trek back to the starting point.

Mr Leversha can control the speed of the irrigators from the palm of his hand using his mobile phone and is immediately notified of any issues day or night.

It takes each lateral irrigator 96 hours — or four full days — for the 520 sprinkler heads to deliver the equivalent to an inch of rain.

To gain even more control over his water availability, Mr Leversha constructed a 300Ml dam on the property to provide protection from supply issues. The dam stores the equivalent of 10 days of irrigation water that can be used immediately if required.

Mr Leversha is now producing 2.5tonnes/Ml of water use and is aiming to increase this to three tonnes.

To supplement his irrigation efficiencies, he also invested in two large drying silos which allow the property to double-crop — producing two crops on the same land in the same year.

The drying silos mean that the crop is able to be harvested at a due date, rather than having to wait for the seasonal conditions to be perfect.

‘‘The crop can be stripped with a higher moisture content and dried later,’’ he said.

‘‘The drying fans start automatically when required, as the sensors monitor the moisture content of the crop contained in the silo.

‘‘There are air vents in the base of the silo, and an opening at the top to allow for the moisture-rich air to leave the drying silos — similar to how a clothes dryer works.

‘‘I can harvest my barley crop on one day and three days later I can be sowing corn in the same footprint.’’

Crop types to date have included corn, chickpeas, lentils, canola, barley, wheat and more recently sunflowers.

Mr Leversha said his farm operations were, at the end of the day, simple.

‘‘My crops are a mirror image, just add diesel and water,’’ he said.

“You are only limited by your own barriers. I am my own boss and all the decisions lay with me. It’s very liberating.’’