Category Archives: AgTech

Electric Weeding Demonstrations

In conjunction with Kazel Cass at Hotgrass, we have a couple of electric weeding demonstrations coming up. So if you’re interested in non-herbicide non-mechanical weeding, get along for a personal encounter.

Option 1: Gisborne
  • 9am – 10 am
    Wednesday 6 December
  • At first car park going up Queens Drive, Titirangi Domain
    (Kaiti Hill), Gisborne
Option 2: Hastings
  • 1:00 – 2:00 pm
    Monday 11 December
  • Centre for Land and Water
    21 Ruahapia Rd, Hastings

General enquiries:
Kazel Cass (Kazel@hotgrass.co.nz or 021 033 2428)

Hotgrass uses the RootWaveTM Pro Electrothermal Weeder technology designed and manufactured by RootWave in the UK. They suggest this is:

  •  Sustainable, using a generator it uses a fraction of fuel required for thermal (steam, hot water) weed control.
  • Organic, the only input is electricity.  No need to carry tonnes of water, or toxic agri-chemicals
  • Effective, trials in the UK show it is effective against some of the toughest weeds because it gets down to the root of the problem.  It is able to control weeds that are resistant to herbicides
  • Manoeuvrable, because the device has a small footprint, and doesn’t require any water, it can be loaded onto small utility vehicles

Charles Merfield, head of the BHU Future Farming Centre, has reviewed electric weeding. His very detailed review is here. Worth your time reading too.

Interoperability for Agriculture

Palmerston North, Friday 8th December 2017

From Landcare Research:

Few activities are more tied to location and the geospatial landscape than agriculture. Agricultural businesses, research and policy makers rely on quantitative data about soils, water, weather, inputs, productivity, outputs, and markets.   This summit will tackle the big questions on big data for agriculture in New Zealand and globally: how to make it really work for farmers, policy-makers, markets and consumers?

Presentations and workshops will cover

  • Precision Agriculture
  • Environmental Data and Information
  • The Internet of Things and new sensor technologies
  • Applications and mobile
  • Privacy, security and protections
  • Maps and models  – current and future
  • Collaborations  and standards in action

Join international geospatial experts along with local innovators in Palmerston North for this one day Summit.

Date Friday 8th December 2017
Time 9.00am – 4.00pm
Agenda See here>
Enquiries Christine Harper harperc@landcareresearch.co.nz

Australasian Precision Agriculture Symposium

Dan Bloomer attended the 20th Symposium on Precision Agriculture in Sydney.

The PA Symposium brings together farmers, growers, researchers, advisors and industry to discuss and absorb developments. Speakers covered cutting edge research, on-farm application by researchers, advisors and farmers, and industry background information such as the state of telecommunications and data ownership.

As Brett Whelan told delegates, “The purpose of precision agriculture has always been to increase the number of correct decisions made in the businesses of crop and animal management. It is a logical step in the evolution of agricultural management systems toward increased efficiency of inputs relative to production, minimized waste and improved product quality, traceability and marketability.”

Crop and soil sensing continues to develop, and there is increasing use of new approaches. Canopy assessment has relied heavily on NDVI, the 1970s vegetation index chosen for distinguishing forest from desert and ocean.  In recent years a wider range of sensors capturing more light bands (blue, green, red and infrared) have become affordable and available. Some look at red-edge and thermal infra-red, two bands often related to crop stress of some form.  Off the shelf cameras that fit simple UAVs are within farm budgets now.

Ian Yule described research with hyperspectral sensors that capture very detailed images with hundreds of light bands. Hundreds of ground control samples provide “real” information and enormous amounts of data get analysed to identify relationships. The capacity of this to determine species, plant nutrient status and other useful information is remarkable. The current research equipment and processing is very expensive but assume price drops as commercialisation progresses.

Machine vision including object shape, texture and colour is being used to recognise individual objects such as plants, parts of plants or specific weeds. Discussing robotics research to guide decision making on vegetable farms Zhe Xu noted, “If a human can recognise something, a machine can be taught to as well.” Get used to artificial intelligence, neural programming and autonomous phenotyping!

We presented our own onions research which is using smartphone cameras to capture very useful crop development information quickly and cost effectively. Combined with crop models and web based calculation we can predict final yields with fair accuracy early enough to support crop management decisions.  

An Australian vegetable research project is using similar approaches to support decision making in carrot crops and investigating others with promise.  That team includes researchers and farmers, and is increasingly using yield monitors for crops such as potatoes and carrots. Converting yield data to value allows farmers to estimate costs of variability and how much to invest to fix problem areas.

Data capture, communications and analysis was a key theme.  Kim Bryceson described the establishment of a sensor network and analytics using IoT (internet of things) tools at Queensland University Gatton.  Rob Bramley explained a process that predicted sugar yields at regional scale to promote better fertiliser management in that industry. Patrick Filippi presented a “big data” approach to predicting grain yield.

The data revolution is changing our world in ways we can’t yet imagine. The increasing amount of things measured, the spatial scale and time span of collection and development of data science to analyse huge streams of information revolutionise our understanding. These are exciting times. Some jobs are going to go, but others will be created as we require completely new skills for jobs not heard of a decade ago. 

“We are all in the position of making decisions from a limited understanding or a particular perspective, working with biological systems that are incredibly complex and impossible to fully understand, “ said Ian Yule. “Recent experience with new sensing technologies and data processing has produced new information that challenges our preconceived ideas and understandings,” he said.

The PA Symposium is presented by SPAA, the Society for Precision Agriculture Australia, and the Precision Agriculture Laboratory at the University of Sydney. There has always been a New Zealand presence because while some details are unique, the tools and processes are for the most part generic. 

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 Delwyndelwyn@bakerag.co.nz

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!

 

MicroFarm pH Mapping

GrowMaps’ pH testing equipment at a Papakura trial site

GrowMaps this week completed the first comprehensive soil pH mapping at the MicroFarm. GrowMaps will have a trade display at the LandWISE 2017 Conference and will be taking part in the Horizons Regional Council field session at the Centre for Land and Water.

GrowMaps principal Luke Posthuma completed the survey, and says his observations as the survey progressed suggest there is a reasonable spread of pH across our relatively small area.

As well as Veris sampling, Luke took a number of soil samples for verification and calibration checks.

The Veris equipment also maps soil electrical conductivity (EC) down to 60cm. Soil EC is a measurement of how much electrical current soil can conduct. It is often an effective way to map soil texture because smaller soil particles such as clay conduct more current than larger silt and sand particles.

Part of the Veris pH mapping is post-survey processing to create the most reliable result. We await the processed maps with considerable interest.

We previously had a similar soil conductivity map provided by AgriOptics and it will be interesting to compare the results.

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.

Report on Australian SPAA Expo 2017

Hugh Ritchie reports from the 2017 Expo

(C) SPAA

The Society of Precision Agriculture (SPAA) is a non-profit and independent membership based group formed in Australia in 2002 to promote the development and adoption of precision agriculture (PA) technologies.

I attended the SPAA expo in March this year which was a grower focused day to present the latest tools and services available to growers. All speakers were service providers or users of the technology as opposed to researchers presenting their studies. This made for a day of very applied learning.

A common theme of the day was that tools selected had to deliver a positive return; i.e. they had to earn their keep. This was very good to hear as I feared I would be seen as a laggard to comment on the lack of variable rate and prescription maps. Most of the speakers identified a problem and the use of tools to find a solution.

There was also a range of farm types and again the message was any one can use PA concepts and you do not need to have high tech tools to practice PA.

The work with Near Infrared, Infrared and Short Wavelength InfraRed has come a long way and the work being done by Dr Ian Yule from Massey University leads the way. Of special interest was a camera manufacturer who could allow you to choose which bands you required and build a camera to suit at an affordable cost, putting this technology in everyone’s hands.

So, if we can do the research around what we want to sense and which wavelength it requires we could get real time data to enable prescriptions without the need to ground truth. This would be the next major leap forward in PA tools.  

Counting buds and berries

James Beech and Tony Cooper are data scientists and the principals of Precision AI Ltd. Tony and James will present to “LandWISE 2017: Are we ready for automation?” and discuss how machine vision and machine learning can be used to automate such things as counting buds, shoots and fruits in orchards and vineyards. 

Capturing quality imagery with changing light conditions, when your target is hiding behind leaves and you are traveling at speed on bumpy ground is quite a challenge. Identifying and quantifying the things you are interested in is a challenge as well.

What are the tools that can help? How close are we to automatically collecting this type of data?

James has over 15 years’ experience in software development, advanced analytics and data visualisation.

James specialises in open data, data infrastructures, business intelligence dashboards and predictive modelling. James is has particular interest in the application of big data through the use of statistical and analytic techniques to solve business problems. His experience spans across financial services, telecommunications and the agricultural sectors.

Tony has a distinguished track record in predictive analytics and data mining. His specialties include machine learning and computer vision. 

Tony has made exciting advances in quantitative research and received industry accolades. He holds a Bachelor of Science (Hons.) in Statistics and Computer Science from Massey University and a Master of Science in Statistics from Stanford University (USA).

Tree climbing robots in forestry

Richard Parker

Richard Parker is a Senior Scientist at Scion in Christchurch.  His research focuses on difficult, dangerous and essential occupations such as forest harvesting and rural fire fighting from the perspectives of human factors and technology.  

Richard is involved in the development of novel robots for forest operations and the human factors of forest work. He was a tree faller and breaker out in a former life.  He is also leads research on rural fire fighter performance and new technologies for fire detection and suppression and is a volunteer rural firefighter.

Delegates at LandWISE 2017: are we ready for automation? will hear Richard say that robotics is inevitable in forestry as specialised machines for forest tasks are developed.  The mining industry already has a history of robot development and automation and forestry is learning from their experience. However, forestry has particular challenges – much of the commercially forested land in New Zealand is on steep and remote terrain. 

Forest harvesting operations have been traditionally considered physically demanding and potentially dangerous, with forest workers on foot exposed to heavy and fast-moving trees, logs and machinery.  Many tasks in forestry have already been mechanised to reduce hazards to the worker and increase productivity.  For example, the axe was replaced by the chainsaw, which was replaced by the excavator based harvesting machine.  However large machines can damage the sensitive forest soils and cannot work on steep terrain where many forest grow.  This presentation will discuss the next stage of forest machine development which uses the standing trees for support.

Animals have lived in the trees for millions of years and have developed behavioural, structural and physiological adaptations to the arboreal environment.  Some animals move slowly from branch-to-branch like the stick insect.  Others, such as gibbons, can move rapidly using brachiation, engaging in the arboreal equivalent of running through the forest from branch to branch.  An opportunity exists to use this form of locomotion, although more slowly than gibbons, for the movement of forestry machinery. 

The proposed machine could always stay above ground moving from tree-to-tree using the trees for support. The machine would eliminate the problem of soil disturbance and would not be limited by terrain steepness.

Bottle Lake Trial Robot

With funding from Scion, the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Forest Growers Levy Trust, the concept of a tree-to-tree forestry machine became real.  Scion and University of Canterbury Mechanical Engineering and Mechatronics students built a working radio controlled tree-to-tree locomotion machine. Development of a real machine demonstrated that being independent of the ground makes operator control easier because the ground conditions (holes, rocks, loose soil) do not have to be adjusted for.