Water resources, viticulture and irrigated crops

This South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) Water Resources, Viticulture and Irrigated Crops Science Program undertakes research on sustainable use of South Australia's water resources for irrigated crop production.

Our researchers develop strategies for:

  • improving irrigation efficiency and water productivity of crops
  • reducing the impact of agricultural land use on the quality of water resources.

Typical features of South Australia’s agriculture which impede irrigated crop production include:

  • scarce water resources
  • frequent droughts semi-arid conditions
  • soil salinity issues
  • brackish ground water.

Much of our research involves developing strategies and technologies to address these issues.

Dr Jim Cox leads this program, which has 2 subprograms:

  • Water Resources and Irrigated Crops
  • Viticulture.

Subprograms and research focus

Water Resources and Irrigated Crops

The research focus of this subprogram is sustainable agricultural water management. The group's capabilities include:

  • Developing guidelines for growers to improve survival of horticulture under periods of drought.
  • Developing irrigation and drainage science and technologies, including:
    • developing sustainable agricultural water management practices
    • seeking to minimise the impact of reducing volumes and qualities of surface and groundwater resources upon irrigated horticulture.
    • developing innovative soil water monitoring to help growers adapt to sustainable irrigation practices.
  • Developing irrigation efficiency and water productivity strategies, including:
    • developing strategies to enhance irrigation efficiency and water productivity of horticultural crops
    • conducting scientific evaluation of leaching and drainage, resulting in savings of precious water and reduction in offsite movement of nutrients.
  • Managing soil salinity and other chemical imbalances, including:
    • developing rootzone salinity management expertise, including effective salt-leaching strategies, to help counteract the accumulation of salt in irrigated agriculture
    • conducting world-leading research into understanding the trade-off between applying highly efficient irrigation and the potential for salinity to build up within the root zone.
  • Investigating impacts of agricultural catchments on water flow and quantity in streams and implications for ecology.

Current and recently completed research projects include:

  • Water Allocation Planning in the Mount Lofty Ranges (Goyder Institute for Water Research).
  • Researching environmental condition indicators to support the management of Lake Eyre Basin rivers (Goyder Institute).
  • An improved water quality model for South Australian Catchments (Goyder Institute).
  • Science to inform environmental watering scenarios in the Coorong: Investigation of productivity, microbiota community structure and trophic dynamics in the Coorong estuary in relation to low volume freshwater flows (Goyder Institute).
  • Methods to increase the use of recycled wastewater in the irrigation industry by overcoming the constraint of soil salinity (Australian Recycling Centre of Excellence and the Goyder Institute).
  • Water allocation planning and water quality improvement scoping study (Goyder Institute).
  • Sustainable diversion limits for the River Murray in South Australia (Goyder Institute).
  • River Murray channel environmental water requirements (Goyder Institute).
  • Enhancing the resilience of permanent horticulture in South Australia (Horticulture Innovation).
  • Salt tolerant rootstocks for long-term sustainability in the Limedstone Coast (Australian Grape and Wine Authority).
  • Managing soil salinity in groundwater irrigated vineyards (National Program for Sustainable Irrigation).
  • Climate and water risks for the South Australian River Murray Strategy (SARMS-IRSP).
  • Almond salt sensitivity: avoiding salt stress during critical growth stages for the South Australian River Murray Strategy (SARMS-IRSP).
  • Longevity and sustained performance of rootstocks in Lower Murray horticulture; viticulture and citrus for the South Australian River Murray Strategy (SARMS-IRSP). Download the:

Sub program contact

Dr Jim Cox
Phone: (08) 8429 2277
Email: jim.cox@sa.gov.au


We provide research capabilities for key national programs that produce wine grapes  for  the production of high quality Australian wines. We conduct applied research across South Australia’s major wine grape production regions in the areas of plant improvement and soil and water management.

We  collaborate with other SARDI science programs, particularly Climate Applications and Plant Health and Biosecurity. We also work with:

  • other research agencies
  • regional viticulture groups and associations
  • interstate agency viticulture groups.

We have experimental plantings at our Nuriootpa, Lenswood and Loxton research centres, as well as on grape growers and wine company vineyards.

Recent research focus includes:

  • decompressing harvest and preserving wine identity
  • managing vineyard rootzone salinity and maximising water saving by sub-surface irrigation techniques
  • managing the impacts of climate change rainfall on vine balance and root activity
  • assessing clonal variability in chardonnay and shiraz for future climate change
  • investigating methods to increase the use of recycled wastewater in the irrigation industry by overcoming the constraint of soil salinity
  • characterising mesoclimates in vineyards to better understand impacts and adaptation options for climate change
  • developing practical management strategies of grapevine trunk diseases
  • developing a threat-specific contingency plan for the exotic pest angular leaf scorch
  • sustaining vineyards through practical management of grapevine trunk diseases (New Zealand)
  • understanding fungicide resistance in powdery mildew, downy mildew and botrytis.

Subprogram contact

Dr Michael McCarthy
Phone: (08) 8568 6409
Email: michael.mccarthy@sa.gov.au

Program leader

Dr Jim Cox
Program Leader, Water Resources, Viticulture and Irrigated Crops
SARDI Sustainable Systems
GPO Box 397 Adelaide SA 5001

Phone: (08) 8429 2277
Email: jim.cox@sa.gov.au

Page Last Reviewed: 06 Feb 2015
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