A water-saving breakthrough in irrigation

As one of the most precious natural resources in the world, water sustains life, promotes growth and allows the Earth’s pulse to flow freely. Passionate about the vital significance of water-saving models in the field of surface irrigation, Dr Malcolm Gillies was awarded the 2009 Young Professional Award for the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage for his groundbreaking work in irrigation software.

Dr Malcolm Gillies


Dr Malcolm Gillies

After graduating with his PhD in 2008 and expanding his role as an engineering lecturer at USQ and hydrologist with the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Irrigation Futures, Malcolm is leading the way for water-saving breakthroughs.His innovative research has led to the application of software technologies that can save more than 20 percent of water used to irrigate large crops. 

He is quick to acknowledge that the landmark research was a team effort — Malcolm’s findings were inspired by an existing suite of irrigation software and analysis called IRRIMATE.

“The program has been around for more than 10 years and my PhD was focused on addressing the limitations of IRRIMATE, improving the software, improving the field measurement techniques and making some additions to the simulation models. So the award is a recognition of our whole team because the IRRIMATE techniques were developed by others here at the University of Southern Queensland.”

Transforming soil irrigation all across the country, Malcolm’s software tools are available as a commercial service, enabling any irrigator to determine how much water is being wasted, or to test the efficiency of current furrow systems, whilst also enabling a ‘what if’ scenario test so they can determine what they can do to improve crop watering. Malcolm explains that, on a grassroots level, the software development directly translates to water saving for the irrigator and an improvement in the crop performance, allowing farmers to plant larger crops, whilst cutting back on water use.

“The software I developed is both the simulation of the irrigation and it determines how much water is potentially wasted,” Malcolm reveals.

A strong proponent of flexibility and remaining open to change, Malcolm’s words of wisdom will resonate with young academics and research hopefuls.

“You’ve got to have goals, but you also need to keep yourself open to any opportunities that might come up and change your direction and career.”

Highlighting that research is a constantly evolving field, bustling with opportunities, he encourages fellow academics to keep an open and receptive mind: “Just be open to any possibilities.”