I-RAT: new tool for more efficient sugarcane irrigation

James Cook University researchers have released an online tool allowing cane farmers to compare various irrigation management options, that will cut electricity and water usage and boost profits.

Dr Brian Collins is a Senior Research Fellow at JCU’s Agriculture Technology and Adoption Centre.

He said the Irrigation Rapid Assessment Tool (i-RAT) is designed for cane growers to explore the impact of changes in irrigation management on their paddocks’ productivity and profitability.

“This tool will make it easier for farmers to understand how they can save water and electricity without loss of cane yield under variable climates,” said Dr Collins.

He said the JCU research team developed i-RAT to make it easier for the industry to see how small, medium, and large changes in irrigation management can increase profit, save water, and reduce energy cost.

“i-RAT harnesses the power of computer modelling and combines it with the knowledge and experience of local cane growers and advisors to enable rapid comparisons of thousands of combinations of farm management scenarios, which are not possible to test in the field,” said Dr Collins.

Professor Yvette Everingham, Director of the Agriculture Technology and Adoption Centre (AgTAC), sees i-RAT as a tool to connect financiers to cane growers.

“Simple-to-setup and quick ‘what-if’ analyses by i-RAT can inform incentive structures and funding bodies regarding investment in new irrigation technologies, as i-RAT produces scientifically validated information that shows investment in irrigation systems can bring about positive changes,” she said.

“Given that climate models are predicting a transition to El Niño conditions, which favours drier conditions, i-RAT will be an extremely useful tool to improve drought resilience,” said Professor Everingham.

To develop i-RAT, JCU partnered with AgriTech Solutions, an irrigation and agronomy company based in Ayr, North Queensland. The project is funded by a partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

The first phase was completed in November 2022, covering the Burdekin region. The second phase, which covers the Mackay-Whitsunday region, is in progress and will be completed by May 2024.

To use i-RAT, you can create an account on https://i-rat.net using an email address.

/Public Release. View in full here.