Saturday, 25 January 2014

A visit with Craige and Roz Mackenzie

After leaving FAR I headed to visit Craige and Roz Mackenzie who farm near Methven in Mid Canterbury. As I travelled out onto the Canterbury plain I was amazed by now much it had changed since I was last here 16 years ago. The rise of the dairy industry is incredible, with dairy farms and irrigators everywhere I looked. It is a clear indication of how NZ farmers adjust their farming practices to the markets and how adaptable the very productive the Canterbury plain is.

A dairy shed with centre pivot irrigator

 Craige and Roz Mackenzie run a diversified business including a 200 ha cropping farm, 360 ha dairy farm next door, a precision Ag company, Agrioptics New Zealand and Craige is also heavily involved with precision Ag in NZ and Australia.
The cropping farm grows a wide ranging rotation, which is common in NZ, including winter and spring wheat, grass seed, fescue, festulolium, carrots, chicory and radish. Most crops are grown for seed and will be contracted to meet market demand, as opposed to the global commodity crops we grow at home. The crops are all high value and managed accordingly, to a very high standard. The input costs are high but so are the returns.
A crop of seed Carrots
The carrots are a hybrid crop, with rows of males sown between the females, as was pollinating. At the end of pollination the males will be destroyed and only the females harvested for their seed.
A crop of Radish seed
Winter Wheat seed crop

All of the land has been EM (Electromagnetic) scanned, this involves measuring the electrical conductivity of the soil which can be used to indicate soil type, texture and stone content. The data is then processed using strict protocols to produce a soil map divided into management zones. The zones are then treated individually to manage the variability and target the potential of each zone. Base fertilizer is applied according to the yield potential of each zone and other inputs such as PGR (Plant growth regulators), fungicides and nitrogen can be applied variably if it is deemed necessary. None are varied in real time, instead a greenseeker fitted to the sprayer is used to scan the crop and measure the NDVI. This data is then interpreted in the office and used to produce a prescription map for a follow up application. The map is sent using WiFi to the controller in the tractor, via Trimble's "Connected Farm".
An irrigation water canal
The Canterbury plain is kris crossed with a network of irrigation canals extracting water from the large rivers flowing from the southern alps to the pacific ocean, to be used by agriculture. The landscape and the productive potential of the plain would be totally different if this water was not available. Craige has installed VRI (Variable Rate Irrigation) on all his irrigators, and is seeing a saving of 30% in his water usage as a result. VRI allows each management zone to be treated according to its need, through the use of moisture probes to record the moisture level at depth. Each zone is assessed weekly for the need to irrigate, with the aim to keep the zones between the refill point (moisture level when water is required) and the full point (moisture level when water starts to drain through the soil profile). Access to a very accurate weather forecast, Yes it does exist, is the final aspect in the decision of when and how much water should be applied.
Soil moisture probe
VRI of Spring Wheat
The irrigators can all be controlled and monitored from the office or Craige's mobile phone, maps are sent via WiFi to the irrigator. These maps can have areas which are not watered, such as laneways or water troughs in a pasture situation.

Plane applying fungicide to Chicory
Craig harvesting his most profitable commodity!
The dairy farm is not exempt from precision, each cow is feed an individual diet at milking according to the information held in its eartag. Milk temperature is measured and if any anomalies are found the cow will be drafted off after milking to be assessed by the herdsman. One of the biggest risks of nitrate leaching from a dairy unit is from the urine patches which are very highly concentrated with ammonia. Craige is working on a system called Smart-N, which identifies the urine patches and does not apply any extra Urea to those areas, using a greenseeker working in reverse. The greenseeker uses an optical sensor to locate greenness and then applies the required product. This technology will help to mitigate the leaching of nitrate from the soil and improve the environmental impact of the dairy industry which could be a problem in the future. 
Craige & Roz Mackenzie
I had a very enjoyable, informative and inspiring stay with Craige and Roz, and thank them very much for their hospitality in welcoming me into their home. It is fantastic to belong to the  Nuffield family. 




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