Category Archives: Agronomy

Benchmarking Onions Year 3

The final year of our collaborative project with Plant and Food Research for OnionsNZ with support from the MPI Sustainable Farming Fund is underway.

This season we are linking with regional agronomists and farmers in Pukekohe/Pukekawa, Hawke’s Bay and Canterbury to further test the Management Action Zone tools.

One of the Pukekawa crops is most advanced and our mapping there starts very soon. Our aim is to map crops at 3 leaf stage, use that to identify canopy zones and take photos in each zone for detailed analysis.

The ground area calculated from the photos is added to plant population counts and run through a crop development model on to predict final yield in each zone. The model also identifies if population of plant growth rate are causing lower than expected development, and therefore yield.

This field is almost ready for the first mapping exercise. We are somewhat nervous because the weeds can cause errors: green is green! Sometimes we can filter the weeds out of the images, but if there is very little difference between weed and onion, it is not yet possible.

The MicroFarm crop has started to emerge in recent days. We are keeping an eye on this to see what impact emergence has later.

Sustainable Weed Management Workshop

Approaches to the non-chemical / sustainable management of weeds

Full House at Weed Control Workshop.

With the increasing and well know issues surrounding herbicides, such as resistant weeds, ‘resistant’ consumers and increased regulation, non-chemical/herbicide weed management is becoming increasingly important. 

Growers are well aware of the limitations of current weed management tools and practices. They recognise simple chemical solutions are increasingly limited and more sophisticated management is essential.

In response to this need, the BHU Future Farming Centre, NZ’s leading specialist sustainable agriculture research centre, and LandWISE with its focus on sustainable production through technology ran a non-chemical weed management workshop to give attendees the knowledge and tools they need to make significant enhancements to the long-term sustainability of their on-farm weed management practices. 

Topics covered included the context of weed management, essential weed biology and ecology, integrated weed management plus detailed coverage of field operations and machinery.   Full information can be found at

Dr Charles Merfield, Head of the Future Farming Centre, said “the aim of this practically focused course was to give attendees a sound overview of the whole of non-chemical weed management as well as providing practical details about how to implement the ideas once they get back to the farm.” 

The feedback from attendees was very positive and we anticipate running this again next winter. We already have a wait list so contact us if you are keen

Download pdf here>

For further information please contact:

Dr Charles Merfield
Head, BHU Future Farming Centre
021 0231 8901
Dan Bloomer
LandWISE Manager
021 356 801

Baker Ag “Inspiring Agriculture”

The BakerAg Winter Seminar

Wednesday 5th July 2017, Copthorne Solway Park Hotel, Masterton

Baker Ag are proud to announce that this year’s seminar has one of the best line-ups yet:

• Melissa Clark-Reynolds – disruptive technologies.
• Dr Charles Merfield – alternate solutions to drenching and weed spraying.
• Ian Williams – how are our farm systems being changed in the name of “sustainability”.
• Richmond Beetham – the wakeup call from the Waikato!
• James Lockhart & Sully Alsop – Benchmarking, a fad or real tool for progress?
• Steve Maharey and Andrew Gibbs – international change and megatrends – what does it mean for NZ?
• Willie Falloon – what are we changing.

Matt Watson, from the Ultimate Fishing Show is the After Dinner Speaker.

There is a free bus service for any attendees from Rangitikei, Manawatu, and Tararua regions. Put the date in your diary.

Tickets are limited to 250 and they are selling fast $185/head – includes dinner and drinks.

To book your tickets talk to

LandWISE 2017: Are we ready for automation?

In 2017 our 15th Annual Conference focuses on automated tools for data collection, decision making and doing actual tasks on the farm (and beyond).

  • What do you want?
  • What’s on offer?
  • How will farms and management have to change?

We have a comprehensive programme. We’ve gone a bit outside the box to bring a variety including from outside the horticultural and arable sectors. We find cross-pollination and hybrid vigour valuable!

So register, come along and listen to excellent presenters, discuss the ideas with colleagues and go away with new understanding and plans.

Thanks to Our Loyal Platinum Sponsors!
Many thanks to AGMARDT, sponsors of our international presenter, Thibault Delcroix, France

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, John Deere and BASF Crop Protection are our Platinum Sponsors again in 2017. Many thanks to these loyal supporters who have backed the Conference for a number of years.

We also welcome our Gold Sponsors, meal sponsors and  trade displays new and old. These are the organisations that make conferences like this possible and affordable.

Join them and us at the Havelock North Function Centre on 24-25 May 2017 to mix with leading practitioners, farmers, growers, researchers, technology developers and providers.

Register now – click here!


Variable Rate N Fertiliser – the Value Proposition

Adrian Hunt is a crop scientist at Plant and Food Research.

He recently completed a PhD at the University of Tasmania, investigating Pre-Harvest and Post-Harvest factor effects on the quality of onion bulbs exported to Europe for counter seasonal supply.  He now works across the vegetable and arable sectors to improve yield, profitability and environmental outcomes.

Together with colleagues Joanna Sharp, Paul Johnstone and Bruce Searle, Adrian has been investigating the value proposition for variable rate fertiliser application.

The technology to deliver variable rate fertiliser in an automated manner has advanced substantially in recent years. This has been aided by new or adapted spreading technologies coupled with location awareness using GPS (Global Positioning System). It is now technically possible to distribute fertilisers in a wide range of spatial patterns within a paddock, however the value proposition of variable rate fertiliser application is not thoroughly understood.

The Plant and Food team looked at the difference in productivity, profitability and potential environmental impact of a range of spatial management scales.

Based on a sampling grid of 105 points in a Hawke’s Bay paddock and used mineral N and a N mineralisation assay to quantify the underlying variability in N processes/cycling within the paddock they “grew” both irrigated and unirrigated maize in the crop simulation model APSIM Next Generation for the 105 sampling locations for 35 growing seasons, using long term weather data.

Adrian will present this work and the results at the LandWISE 2017 Conference in Havelock North.

Onions NZ Research Workshop

Improving the profitability of onions

Wednesday 10 May 2017 1:30pm to 5:00pm
Campbell Tyson Business Centre
Level 2, 1 Wesley Street

Come along to hear and discuss results from the second seasons of the Onions NZ/MPI Sustainable Farming Fund project “Enhancing the profitability and value of NZ onions” presented by LandWISE Inc. and Plant and Food Research. You will also be able to contribute to the research plans for the next season of this project.

In addition, recent research conducted by Plant and Food Research on the impact of soils on soil borne diseases as well as work completed by the industry’s two PhD scholars will also be presented.

This Workshop is free to Onions NZ members but registration is essential.

Please register attendance by emailing James Kuperus with the names of who you are registering (if it is more than just yourself).

Click here for the programme

Benchmarking Onion Variability 2016-17

Now in year two of our OnionsNZ SFF project, we have trials at the MicroFarm and monitoring sites at three commercial farms in Hawke’s Bay and three more in Pukekohe.


A summary of Year 1 is on our website. A key aspect was testing a range of sensors and camera systems for assessing crop size and variability. Because onions are like needles poking from the ground, all sensors struggled especially when plants were small. This is when we want to know about the developing crop, as it is the time we make decisions and apply management.

By November our sensing was more satisfactory. At this stage we captured satellite, UAV, smartphone and GreenSeeker data and created a series of maps. 

We used the satellite image  to create canopy maps and identify zones. We sampled within the zones at harvest, and used the raltioship between November canopy and February yield to create yield maps and profit maps.

Yield assessments show considerable variation, limits imposed by population, growth of individual plants, or both

We also developed relationships between photographs of ground cover, laboratory measurements of fresh weight and leaf area and the final crop yield.

In reviewing the season’s worth of MicroFarm plot measurements and noticed there were areas where yield reached its potential, areas where yield was limited by population (establishment), some where yield was limited by canopy growth (development) and some by both population and development.

This observation helped us form a concept of Management Action Zones, based on population and canopy development assessments.

Management Action Zones – If population is low work for better establishment next season. If plants are small see if there is something that can be done this season


Our aims for Year 2 are on the website. We set out to confirm the relationships we found in Year 1.

This required developing population expectations and determining estimates of canopy development as the season progressed, against which field measurement could be compared.

We had to select our “zones” before the crop got established as we did a lot of base line testing of the soil. So our zones were chosen based on paddock history and a fair bit of guess work. Really, we need to be able to identify zones within an establishing or developing crop, then determine what is going on so we can try to fix it as quickly as possible.

In previous seasons we experimented with smartphone cameras and image processing to assess canopy size and relate that to final yields. We are very pleased that photographs of sampling plots processed using the “Canopeo” app compare very well with Leaf Area Index again this season.

Through the season we tracked crop development in the plots and using plant counts and canopy cover assessments to try and separate the effects of population (establishment) and soil or other management factors.

We  built a web calculator to do the maths, aiming for a tool any grower or agronomist can use to aid decision making. The web calculator was used to test our theories about yield prediction and management zones.

ASL Software updated the “CoverMap” smartphone application and we obtained consistent results from it. The app calculates canopy ground cover and logs data against GPS position in real time. Because we have confidence that ground cover from image processing is closely related to Leaf Area Index we are working to turn our maps into predictions of final yields.

Maps of canopy cover created from the CoverMap smartphone application show significant variability across the paddock. Canopy increase is seen over time in two maps created a week apart

The current season’s MicroFarm crop is certainly variable. Some is deliberate: we sat the irrigator over some areas after planting to simulate heavy rain events, and we have a poorly irrigated strip. We know some relates to different soil and cover crop histories.

But some differences are unexpected and so far reasons unexplained.

Wide variation within the area new to onions does not follow artificial rain or topographic drainage patterns. This photo is of the area shown far right in the cover maps above.

Together with Plant and Food Research we have been taking additional soil samples to try and uncover the causes of patchiness.

We’ve determined one factor is our artificial rain storm, some crop loss is probably runoff from that and some is historic compaction.  We’ve even identified where a shift in our GPS AB line has left 300mm strips of low production where plants are on last year’s wheel tracks!

But there is a long way to go before this tricky crop gives up its secrets.

This project is in collaboration with Plant and Food Research and is funded by OnionsNZ and the MPI Sustainable Farming Fund.

We also appreciate the support of growers, seed companies and our MicroFarm sponsors Ballance AgriNutrients, BASF Crop Protection and the Centre for Land and Water.


MicroFarm Update

Ballance AgriNutrients and BASF Crop Protection have continued their sponsorship of the LandWISE MicroFarm for 2016-17 and 2017-18. The MicroFarm is hosted by the Centre for Land and Water which provides fields, sheds, equipment and the Green Shed venue for our meetings and seminars. We greatly appreciate their very significant contributions which make the operation possible.

Mark Redshaw put hours into getting the MicroFarm up and running and spending much of his free-time spraying and monitoring onions for two seasons. Now we have our own small sprayer we have taken that task over, but remain most grateful to Mark.

Special thanks also to Mel at HydroServices for irrigation monitoring, Patrick Nicolle for machinery support, BioRich for lending us a tractor, Hugh Ritchie for his irrigator, FruitFed Supplies for crop protection support, Scott Lawson for seed and machinery, Vigour Seeds and SPS for onion seed and McCain Foods for process crop support.

After a number of years of constant pea crops, we are having a break. Our main focus this season has been on onions, crop variability and its drivers. We have plenty of variability, but which factors are driving still proves elusive.

Aerial view of the MicroFarm taken by DJI Phantom showing replicated soil amendment plots on right, flagged replicated plots in onion zones on left, and at far left drought stressed onion beds, the reason we extended the irrigator

In conjunction with OnionsNZ and Plant & Food,
we held a grower field day in January to discuss the OnionsNZ SFF project.

We do know topography and drainage are critical factors but they do not explain all the variation we are seeing. To assess their impact, we deliberately applied “heavy rain” to some areas and have been comparing these with areas not subjected to a hard40+mm rain event before emergence.

Artificial heavy rain event applied after planting and before emergence

We prepared an OptiSurface plan two years ago but did not implement it as we were keen to explore variation in our onions trials. Perhaps it is time to act on our own advice!

Topomap created from a Trimble RTK GPS survey shows relative elevations. Yellow highest, purple lowest. Surface flow analysis of topographic maps like this show where water can become trapped and pond.
OptiSurface analysis shows where water will pond. In this image, the beds are assumed to be 100mm high. The brown areas will drain, blue and purple areas will have ponding – pale blue least, dark purple most.

The other main crop this season is sweetcorn. We are hosting a series of variety trials and are assessing a soil amendment product to see if it offers an economic advantage to growers.

To assess the soil amendment we set up a six plot replicated trial – with and without the treatment. We randomly split plots to avoid bias, and are taking crop development data through the season. At harvest we will determine paddock yield and the recovery rate of kernels in each plot.

A randomised six plot trial layout for assessing the effect of a soil amendment on a sweetcorn crop. Yellow lines imposed on aerial image from consumer UAV.

In Search of Farm Robots: Ch2 Denmark

This article originally appeared in “The Grower”

A visit to Denmark in search of farm robotics expanded to include wide span tractors, controlled traffic farming, growing Christmas trees and farm nutrient management plans and audits.

Automation of the agricultural sector has EU and government attention and funding. Despite an influx of refugees and workers from Eastern Europe, the focus is filling a labour void in the agricultural sector.

The new USD Tek Centre housing an engineering research group of around 500 people at the University of Southern Denmark (USD) illustrates the investment. 

The Tek Centre at University of Southern Denmark illustrates the investment Europe is making in agritech development

Research institutes, municipalities and government are working on a proposal to turn a nearby commercial airport into a specialised unpiloted aerial system (UAS/UAV) facility.

USD is developing unmanned aerial systems to distribute beneficial insects to grapevines. Ground application results in losses as many beneficials cannot climb to colonise the target plant. The technical hurdle is UAS control – needing to control flight to release the beneficials from 200-500 mm above the canopy.

USD Robotic specialist Kjeld Jensen promotes open source software as key to increasing the pace of development. Having access to standards, stable architecture and software libraries means researchers can focus on new things rather than constantly reinventing the wheel.

An innovation hub in Struer was established in a facility donated by Ericsson Communications when they shifted research and development from Denmark. It is now home to about 150 technologists in a number of start-up companies.

Resident ConPleks Innovation develops automation technology for other manufacturers (for example Intelligent Marking and MinkPapir). The availability of such support makes it much easier for traditional companies to enter the field of robotics. 

At the Agro Food Park in Aarhus, AgroIntelli has a focus on autonomy for weed control in organic productions systems, a movement apparently stronger in Europe than in New Zealand. This start-up grew out of a disbanded Kongskilde R&D group.

Safety of unmanned systems is critical. All the above are involved in “SAFE”, a project that brings together major agricultural machinery manufacturers and universities to develop advanced sensors, perception algorithms, rational behaviours for semi-automated tractors and implements and finally autonomous robots.

Hans Henrik Pedersen is well known to LandWISE members for his work on controlled traffic farming and gantry tractors. At Kjeldahl Farms on Samso we saw the prototype 9m ASA-Lift gantry. At 20+tonnes plus another 20+ tonnes with a hopper of onions it’s not a small machine. It seems version two will be different, but development funding is yet to be found.

The ASA-Lift 9m wide span gantry tractor at Kjeldahl Farms

At the Aarhus Agro Food Park Dan Bloomer delivered a presentation on Precision Agriculture in New Zealand to 70 Dutch agronomists and agrichem representatives touring Denmark. An afternoon field trip visited a biogas generator on a dairy farm and a facility for high quality Christmas tree production.

Specialist equipment for commercial production of Christmas trees fits narrow rows and automates labour intensive tasks

Other presentations covered the operation of SEGES, a farmer owned agricultural research and extension organisation performing more than 1,000 field trials every year in partnership with universities, government departments, businesses and trade associations.

SEGES covers all aspects of farming and farm management – from crop production, the environment, livestock farming and organic production to finance, tax legislation, IT architecture, accounting, HR, training and conservation.

A lot of work involves nutrient management. Denmark introduced nitrogen regulations in 1994. We are only now at a similar position. Caps introduced to stop leaching halved losses by 2014 by which time the nitrogen cap was about 25% lower than the economic optimum.  With most benefit coming from improved handling of animal manures, the cap is now being lifted.

All Danish farmers must have nutrient management plans with budgets and fertiliser purchase documentation and application records. They are must report annually, work mostly being done by about 3,500 consultants. All fertiliser sales are reported to the Environment Agency so farm reports can be audited.

Dan’s travel was supported by a Trimble Foundation Study Grant