Thursday, 27 February 2014
The end of my visit to New Zealand
My Final visit in New Zealand was at Lincoln Agritech with Armin Werner and Jess Roberts. Lincoln agritech is a subsidiary of Lincoln University, and is involved with developing products with industry. There is currently a focus on how NZ agriculture affects the environment and Agritech are looking at how precision agriculture can help to quantify these effects and minimize them.
Variable rate irrigation monitoring using microwave sensors on irrigators to measure the water availability in real time without disturbing the crop is one example. VRI application maps are built using soil type data and measuring soil moisture with moisture probes, but it is not known how much water is actually in the plant. The microwave sensors can collect this data in real time and lead to better informed management decisions.
Agritech are also researching variable rate seeding for maize, as the crop is growing in popularity due to demand from the dairy industry. By using soil zones from EM maps, yield potential can be estimated and plant populations manipulated to match that potential. If this is coupled to the vast research being done in corn (maize) production in the USA, and the improvements in planter control and monitoring, there are many ways precision agriculture can improve maize production.
Jess Roberts’s research is based in Australia and is around monitoring cattle movements and pasture management to see if the cattle can tell the farmer when they are starting to get hungry. By logging their movement using GPS collars, and recording the feed availability using biomass sensors, it was possible to see how they dispersed and how far they travelled as feed levels declined. Also in the extreme environment of remote cattle stations, can this information be used to indicate if an animal is so hungry that it will just stop grazing completely? This data could be used to prevent over grazing of pastures and ultimately improve grass production.
As I travelled back to Christchurch I went past a tribute to past ploughmen of New Zealand which celebrated hosting the world ploughing championships, and recognised previous farmers efforts in breaking the Canterbury plains. It is always good to remember your past as you move forward.
After 2 weeks in New Zealand is very clear that the whole agricultural sector is heavily supported by the dairy sector, but the dairy sector is not isolated and very well integrated with other sectors. It is the diversity and options available to New Zealand that is most compelling, that along with the productivity levels being achieved are very inspiring.
Precision Agriculture is still in its infancy but the uptake is growing. The wider adoption of VRI will lead to the biggest productivity and profitability gains for farmers. Purely because the difference irrigation makes is phenomenal and there is a growing demand for regulation and justification of irrigation and its effects on the environment, which is the jewel in New Zealand’s crown.
I had a wonderful time meeting new friends and visiting old friends, and I thank everyone for their time and hospitality, which I hope to be able return to any of them visiting the UK in the future.