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Project name Water CAN Profit: maximising returns per megalitre of irrigation
Funding bodies Grains Research & Development Corporation
Lead researcher Associate Professor Matt Harrison
Chief Investigators Dr Rowan Eisner, Mr Albert Muleke, Professor Byeong Kang, Dr Yuchen Wei
Contributors University of Queensland, Southern Growers, CSIRO, PIRSA

This project built a digital framework to help people choose the most economically viable crop given highly variable commodity prices, markets and climates. The framework – embodied in a digital tool called WaterCan Profit – is a calculator co-designed with and for Australian farmers and agronomists. WaterCan Profit examines how the profitability of irrigated crops varies with varying yields, seasonal climate conditions, irrigation allocation, grain price, water use and other costs (e.g. fertiliser use and labour).

The co-design process invoked to construct WaterCan Profit exemplifies place-based research with global relevance, people-centred research, and extensive community engagement. The framework was built with input from advisors, farmers, research and industry across QLD, NSW, VIC, SA and TAS from 2019-2022. The framework was revised extensively in line with demand and was built using a demand-driven process. The design-led thinking approach exemplifies the way the university researchers collaborate to help industry improve their sustainability and economic returns, improving long-term prosperity and the Green Economy.

The calculator also allows users to compare multiple “what-if” scenarios: “what-if” you used less nitrogen fertiliser or “what-if” yields of a given crop type were 1 t/ha more? The calculator allows rapid comparisons of all of the main drivers of grain crop profitability.

Another benefit of using the calculator is whole farm planning. Given an annual allocation of water, what is the most economically optimal use of that water across the whole farm area? Should the water be used all on one crop, should it be used sparingly across multiple crops in late spring, or should it be used to irrigate a crop over summer, e.g. maize?

A third advantage of the calculator is long-term profitability. Leading farmers have suggested that all grain growers should be making comparisons between payback times of alternative irrigation infrastructure, given the expected yields of a certain type of irrigation infrastructure and its water use. In this way, users can compare economic metrics (e.g. rate of return, net present value etc) for various types of irrigation infrastructure, accounting for crop rotation, cropping area, yields, water use, input costs and so on. This represents a strategic investment analysis.

A desktop version of WaterCan Profit is available at:

A mobile app version of WaterCan Profit is currently under construction.

More information please contact Associate Professor Matthew Harrison on

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