Category Archives: Controlled Traffic Systems

Intensive cropping: Dealing with reality

We have a group in Hawke’s Bay focused on best management for field cropping.  We want to know how far we can push production without degrading the soil, our base resource.

We have drafted a five year cropping programme, based around process crops, but with other crops in the mix. This is typical in the region where process crops are mixed with onions, squash, some cereals, occasional potatoes and often winter grass.

In our programme we have tried to eliminate animals and pasture, looking instead at maximising vegetable production. Given the different seasons, season lengths and the realities of planting dates that must fit factory schedules, this gets a bit tricky.

Central to our plan are vining peas and green beans, two crops with specialist harvest equipment. Viners are very heavy. The bean harvester weighs in at about 18 tonnes plus 4 tonnes of crop when full. The pea viners are around 22 tonnes, plus a couple more of crop when full.

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These machines have large wheel or track footprints, so impact a wide path. And pea viners typically travel across the lie of the crop, not up and down rows, so can track anywhere. How does that fit our plans to adopt controlled traffic!

Gary Cutts of Tasman Harvester Contractors is at the centre of the action. The company currently has nine harvesting machines with a price tag of around $1million each. From December, the machines earn their keep, harvesting 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Peas are a very delicate crop and only have a premium harvesting window of 24 hours. Before that they’re too young, and after that they’re too old. It’s an exact science to determine when to pick.

For a successful harvest Gary’s team must respond to demand from the factory and deliver on time. Delays that affect factory processing are costly.  

The new harvesters, especially those on tracks, can get on to the ground even in very poor weather. But what is their impact on the soil? They are very heavy, they have big feet, and the soil may be weakened by wetness.

Gary contacted Marc Dresser at Landcare Research after hearing him at a LandWISE Conference. Marc is a specialist in soils and mechanical engineering whose knowledge is unrivalled. He worked with Gary on tyre selection and tyre pressures to optimise performance.

Together they reduced harvester tyre pressures from around 30psi to 20psi. They reversed the direction of jockey bin tyres too. Gary says the difference is immediately noticeable in the field. Coupled with a change to tracks, the soil load has been greatly reduced.

Gary still wants to know what the impact on the soil is. Are harvesters doing damage? If they are causing compaction, what is best practice remediation? When should it be done? How does it impact following crops?

We want to know too. And we want to know what a farmer can do to best prepare their soils before the harvesters arrive. Before the crop is even planted.

We can control traffic in pretty much all operations with the equipment in use now – except for the viners. We’ve looked at a number of scenarios, which suggest that the 30” row is the factor that sets the standard. Smaller tractors might straddle two rows, bigger machines can straddle four. If equipment is sized accordingly, we can get the trafficked area down to about 17% of the ground. Except for the viners.

Most paddocks only see peas about once in five years, so that leaves 4 years and 11 months of controlled traffic. But in our super-intensive farm, we might see peas almost every year and green beans too. We really do need to know how to manage this aspect of some of our important regional crops.

Where on Earth are we?

2106-1 DSC_1332webTractors steer themselves. Self-positioning implements place seed, nutrients and cultivators exactly where they are wanted. Wheels stay on defined tracks leaving most of the paddock in optimum condition for plants to grow.

Detailed maps show soil varying within paddocks. Yield maps show different production in different parts of a paddock. Application maps record and prove where inputs were applied.

Animals are tracked and their movement patterns alert farmers to new births. Your stolen four-wheeler is recovered, the thieves tracked and location displayed on GoogleMaps.

Geo-location is the identification of the real-world geographic location of an object. Guided by GPS, we know where on earth we are. We become “spatially aware” and that is the basis of a revolution in agriculture.

Smart farmers depend on the precision of GPS and smart software, and are constantly find new ways to benefit. It leads to changed practice that captures efficiencies and optimises efforts. In the end, it makes things easier.

Self-steering tractors are far more accurate than any driver. They run exactly the same lines every time and free the operator to focus on more important tasks. “The money is made at the back of the tractor, so why spend all day looking out the front?”

As well as providing physical guidance, spatial awareness allows smart farmers to understand their farm in a new way, thinking about points not paddocks, aware of the differences. It lets farmers see how different things relate to one another. Where crop yields are above and below average and how that relates to soil variation. They can tune management to fit.

How accurate can we be, and what accuracy do we need? That depends on what you are trying to do.

Being a few metres out may be okay for some jobs: recording where you take soil nutrient samples, where a water trough is, a rough farm boundary. But for many farm applications, it isn’t good enough.

A good hand held GPS unit will get you within a few metres or so. This simple test demonstrates this:

· Put the GPS unit on a strainer post and record its position or way point

· Use the GPS to steer you back to the same way point later in the day or tomorrow

· See how close you are to the strainer post

You may a few metres out. And if you try again the next day, you’ll possibly be put somewhere different again.

For mechanical weeding, getting close to, but not into, a plant row is important. This requires GPS which reliably gets within centimetres. That entails a very good GPS receiver, and a correction signal using either RTK or CORS to fine-tune the accuracy of the position while the machine is moving.

This level of accuracy is only possible with automatic guidance. Most drivers using GPS for guidance steer within about one foot either side of the line. They can’t make use of a more accurate system because it is actually too hard to follow a guidance system any closer.

Two centimetre accuracy isn’t needed for broad-acre spraying or fertiliser spreading. But some opportunities are missed if a less accurate system is settled for.

When we are unsure of accuracy, we create deliberate overlap to ensure coverage, or create buffers to avoid causing damage.

When spraying, overlap represents overdose of chemical and can result in poor growth in current and following crops. Poor coverage represents under-application giving poor control or the possibility of increased herbicide resistance.

When cultivating, overlap wastes time and fuel, and means more damage to soil for no gain. The ability to return to exactly the same wheel tracks allows considerable energy savings too.

In the end, most cropping farmers want more accuracy and precision as they develop new ways of working with GPS. They all say – buy the most accurate system you can justify.

A wide span tractor designed for vegetable production

Hans Henrik Pedersen is completing a PhD at Aarhus University in Denmark. He was a key speaker at LandWISE 2013: “New Ideas”. Hans told delegates about his work investigating a wide-span tractor as an option for cropping farmers.

Vegetable farmers, who adopt CTF, face serious challenges at harvest because very few harvesters are designed to match CTF systems. The soil structure is severely damaged when heavy harvest machines run over the well structured growing beds. A few farmers have modified harvesters, but to our knowledge only one CTF vegetable farmer has succeeded in matching harvest machines for all his crops.

As CTF farmers are still a minority the limited demand means that machinery manufacturers do not yet perceive a need. Also 3 m track width, as used by most CTF vegetable farmers, is a challenge as mass produced harvest machines need to meet road regulations in different countries.

In a Danish project partly funded by the Danish Business Innovation Fund a 9.6 m prototype wide span tractor has been developed. It will be tested by a commercial farmer (Jens Kjeldahl, Samsø) who will grow onions on 9.6 m wide beds spanned by the tractor. ASA-Lift A/S has designed and built the wide span tractor. Besides cultivation, drilling and plant care operations, the tractor will be used as a bunker harvester for onions and possibly for other crops. At harvest, the machine will unload at the field edges, thereby avoiding tractors and trailers in the field.

ASALiftGantry First presentation of the ASA-Lift WS-9600 tractor, summer 2012. Photo: Brdr. Kjeldahl

A wide span tractor solves two main challenges facing the traditional tractor:

  • Restrictions in width (e.g. due to road regulations) are solved by changing the direction of travel between field work and road transport. The machine is wide in the field and long when transported on roads but only 2.55 m wide.
  • Weight of the tractor can be reduced as implements can be mounted within the span of the tractor. The forces from the implements are transferred directly to the tractor as opposed to traditional mounting systems, where the tractor needs weight to pull the implement. Also, in conventional implement designs, a strong, heavy and often complex structure is needed to transfer the forces through the tractor hitch, as well as to fold the implement for transport.

Earlier work on wide span tractor designs e.g. as described by Chamen et al. (1994), unfortunately did not lead to commercial production.

A key point in design of any technology is to ensure that the development process is targeted to the priorities of potential customers. As part of my PhD. Studies I have performed a Quality Function Deployment (QFD) to derive user-requirements and design parameters.

Twenty eight farmers and farm managers in Europe and Australia have been interviewed about their priorities for the design of a new growing concept based on wide span machines. The majority of those interviewed were CTF farmers. The farmers were asked to score 28 specific requirements on a scale from 0 to 4.

The 10 requirements with the highest priority were: (average scores are given in parentheses)

  • Automatic accurate steering of the carrier (3.9)
  • Reducing soil compaction (3.8)
  • Durability of the machine (3.4)
  • Overview of the entire machine from the operator’s seat (3.4)
  • Total costs per hour (3.3)
  • Clear view and manoeuvrability to avoid damage (3.3)
  • Semi-automatic control for increased productivity and ease of operation for the driver (3.3)
  • Comfort of the driver (3.3)
  • Automatic accurate steering of mounted implements (3.3)
  • Capability to carry heavy loads in the field (3.2)

A next step involved technical experts suggesting technical solutions (Design Parameters) to accommodate the priorities set by the farmers. The results of this QFD analysis can be used by any manufacturer who wishes to develop wide span machines.

Tractors as we know them today were very successful in replacing horses. Since they were introduced in the 1920s, rubber tyres and four-wheel drive have been established, along with other features, but basically the design has not changed. However, the power output has increased more than 10 fold and the weight of tractors has increased by a similar factor. The load of agricultural machines is challenging the productivity of soils. We believe it is time for a change to the traditional tractor and that the wide span alternative can be designed to suit the needs of modern agriculture while significantly improving production efficiency.

Reference:  Chamen, W. C. T., Dowler, D., Leede, P. R., and Longstaff, D. J. (1994). Design, Operation and Performance of a Gantry System: Experience in Arable Cropping. Journal of Agricultural Engineering Research 59, 45-60.

Look also at the CTF-Europe website for more from Hans Pedersen, Tim Chamen and colleagues

 

 

Farm equipment 2020

This article was first published in “The Grower”, following a request for some thoughts on where cropping equipment is heading.

Farm Equipment 2020

An easy way to look stupid is to publish a prediction.

For example:

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.”—Western Union, 1876

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Ken Olson, 1977.

“Everyone’s always asking me when Apple will come out with a cell phone. My answer is, ‘Probably never.'”—David Pogue, 2006

“Technology Forecasting” seeks to identify technology trends and adoption rates. By tracking research papers, patent applications and early prototypes, an idea of when a new technology will appear, be first and broadly adopted, and its ultimate “market penetration” can be deduced. But it is notoriously difficult.

Looking at farm equipment, some directions are evident. But I’m very, very unsure about the time frames for broad adoption. And there are things just over the horizon that will be game changing. And of which we are absolutely ignorant.

Different folk adopt different things at different rates. Of the three base resources; land (and water), labour and capital, which are most limiting to your business? Your priorities for new ways and equipment will often see available capital move to make the use of your most limiting resources more efficient.

A reasonable assumption is that there will be fewer people producing more, higher-quality produce more reliably. They will use equipment that doesn’t look that different, but is much, much smarter. A planter will still look like a planter, but its control and recording will be vastly different.

Most changes will be to produce more from less – no change there in hundreds of years. But to produce more while minimising our environmental footprint is a newer spin. It will take us until 2020 to fully respond to regulatory changes.

Ten predictions:

1. Embedded information technologies will have a massive impact across all aspects of cropping.  That is an easy call; they already are with satellite guidance, machine control, data capture, smartphones and improving rural broadband access.

2. Almost all equipment will be delivered with smart technology on-board, though not enabled until a licence fee is paid. Infotech is becoming rapidly cheaper and better. The physical bits are relatively inexpensive to produce, but the IP can be costly.

3. Data capture and analysis will be more powerful yet simpler. Automated routines will capture and turn data into farmer friendly information for decision making and compliance reporting.

4. All farm “devices” will be linked, geo-located and synchronised: your phone, tractor, sprayer, office, car, cool room and irrigator. Vehicles will routinely gather crop information as they pass, feeding it wirelessly to the farm office for analysis.

5. We will not see variable rate application based on sensor data as a one-pass operation.  There are too many factors that influence the farm decision and it will be a while before all the considerations can be integrated automatically. Never say never?

6. Irrigation will be more efficient and smarter, using soil moisture data from sensor networks, and better integrated weather forecast information. Systems will deliver more accurate depths more evenly. The drivers are limited water supply and need to reduce nutrient leakage.

7. Variable rate system adoption will continue to increase and fertigation will be more widely used, especially in “fully nutrient allocated” areas. It offers tighter control and reduces the severity of any leaching.

8. Controlled traffic systems incorporating no-till, strip-till or permanent beds will be widespread, giving numerous benefits and very few downsides.   Guidance is already “mature technology” on cropping farms. Seven years is long enough for a lot of equipment to be replaced as a matter of course. Selecting options that match standard bout widths is relatively simple; then common AB lines give CTF by default.

9. Driverless tractor units for harvest trailers/chaser bins will be supervised by harvester drivers. If cars can already drive safely on public roads . . .

10. Robotic sprayers and mowers will be used in orchards and vineyards but will not be common in field cropping.

 

International Controlled Traffic Farming Conference – Queensland

Very few farmers globally have converted fully to controlled traffic farming. So why did over 100 people from 13 countries gather in Toowoomba to talk about it?

“It offers huge benefits,” say farmers who are doing it.  “It offers huge benefits,” say researchers assessing its merits.

Who’s doing it? What benefits?

Few New Zealand farmers consider themselves to be CTF farmers. The system David Clark developed for maize in Gisborne is as pure CTF as any seen in Australia or reported in conference sessions. The system Chris Butler developed for salads and one being refined for onions and potatoes by Wilcox staff are also as advanced as any described at the conference.

PermBedsWeb

Permanent beds that leave wheel tracks unworked are a form of CTF for intensive vegetable production. They offer better access in wet conditions.

Many New Zealand arable and vegetable farmers are tramlining on a crop by crop or seasonal basis.

Controlled traffic farming (CTF) is any farming system built on keeping all wheel tracks to closely defined paths. This must take into account the interactions between farmers and their farms, soils, topography, crops, climate, equipment and technology.

Many studies have monitored a wide range of economic, biological and physical factors and seen positive gains. Numerous examples show very significant economic advantages from reduced costs and increased returns.

Significant savings in energy, labour and equipment operating costs were reported by all conference speakers. The relative spread and importance of savings varied. Labour savings are often more important in horticulture than in arable. Fuel saving in broadacre is relatively more beneficial than in intensive horticulture.

Soil quality improvements are well documented. CTF gives improved field access, higher soil strength and stability, deeper root exploration, increased water infiltration rates, increased water holding and nutrient access and elevated biological activity.

The farmers and researchers spoke of CTF as a system of farming, and noted that once traffic is managed, other benefits are found. They include enhanced irrigation, ability to establish crops more quickly and exploit smaller windows of opportunity and the ability to grow new crops.

Better field access allows more timely planting, field operations and harvest. These generally translate to better yields and crop quality and less frequent losses from adverse climatic events. No one reported significant yield depression.

The cost of conversion to CTF depends on the inventory of equipment on-farm. At first glance, the cost of transition can look prohibitive. But it need not be problematic if considered over a longer time period.

JD Axle extension Toowoomba Web

Axle extension for wide track CTF

Customising tractors and harvesters can be very expensive, but working with common standard widths is not. And under controlled traffic systems, a lot of equipment may become redundant.

Once optimum track and bout widths have been determined, a plan can be created. Few farmers will go out and replace all their equipment at once. But they can ensure new equipment purchased will fit the system that has been planned.

As several farmers stated, “Just get started, and think when you buy new gear. One day you’ll wake up and find it all just fits.”

Dan Bloomer was a presenter at the CTF Conference, on behalf of LandWISE members and New Zealand CTF farmers.

Site Specific Management – 2012 Conference Summary

“Collaboration is the key,” Alastair Bisley told 160 people at the LandWISE Site Specific Management; growing within limits conference in Havelock North.

The “limits” that gave the LandWISE Conference its focus, are to ensure fresh water quality and quantity are maintained or enhanced. Reporting on the Land and Water Forum, Alastair said collaborative processes identify win-wins and produce more enduring outcomes – with community buy-in.

Collaborative processes place first responsibility on local users, stakeholders and iwi to determine detailed management objectives for catchments. They allow discussion of the benefits and costs of different approaches and determine time frames in which to achieve them.

Precision viticulture was a new event at the Conference. AGMARDT Keynote, Rob Bramley from CSIRO set the scene. A frequent trans-Tasman collaborator, Rob later explained how farmers can (in collaboration with specialists) use smart tools to conduct excellent research on their own farms and fine-tune management for each site.

LandWISE SFF project work with Villa Maria and Mission Estate showed clear benefits of detailed site assessment of soils and canopy vigour. Site specific management raised juice quality and significantly increased winery returns.

Attendees heard how GPS and GIS were used to track and understand the spread of PSA in kiwifruit and leaf roll virus in grapes. The recent fruit fly discovery reminds us just how at risk we are, and how smart we need to be to manage such events.

Tim Neale has collaborated with growers to track harvest vehicles, and to fit yield monitors on to potato, onion and carrot harvesters. The aim: to know where yield and revenue is coming from, and accordingly apply the right inputs at the right rate.

Hydro-Services collaborated with Environment Canterbury and NASA to monitor water use in greater detail using satellite imagery and soil moisture monitoring. FAR collaborated with Plant & Food and growers to develop AquaTRAC for irrigation scheduling with economic considerations.

The final session was a field trip to Hugh Ritchie’s property to view Site Specific Management in action. The site has a variable rate pivot irrigator, a weather station and soil moisture monitoring, and is under-going extensive drainage development.

Without the efficiency gains achievable with variable rate irrigation Hugh could not cover the whole area with the limited water available. The towable pivot has three positions. The VRI avoids overlapping and speeds the machine to reduce return intervals.

One of two drain-laying machines demonstrated uses RTK-GPS, allowing it to optimise fall at multiple grades to maintain depth between pre-set depths. The tile pipe is pulled into the ground, complete with a gravel envelope, as a single operation.

A land levelling scraper, also controlled with RTK-GPS was demonstrated. Topsoil is stockpiled, the sub-soil cut and filled to grade, and topsoil replaced. A key innovation of both GPS drainage systems is that all calculations are completed on-the-go in the tractor cab.

The first LandWISE conference in 2003 attracted 70 people to discuss soil quality, cultivation practice and efficient irrigation. The tenth brought 160 people from across New Zealand and from Australia and the UK to talk about doing the right thing, whatever it is, in the right place at the right time.

Future cropping will see each site having specific management applied to ensure profitable production with environmental stewardship. A focus on soil quality and water care, together with the use of smart tools will be critical. LandWISE looks forward to supporting that progression.

LandWISE News March 2012

LandWISE 2012 – 10th Annual Conference May 2012

Put the 22, 23 and 24 May 2012 in your diary for the 10th Annual LandWISE Conference.

The title is Site Specific Management: growing within limits. We are looking at the changing requirements for farming, in particular the increasing need to demonstrate that farming has minimal environmental impact. Look for a focus on soil water management, irrigation, monitoring and drainage.

For the first time we also have a day focused on Smart Viticulture. This builds on current LandWISE work with local viticulturists investigating the benefits, costs and logistics of applying zonal management using precsion viticulture techniques.

  • People with viticulture interests will find Day 1 extremely useful. They will also see there are great presentations on the other days.
  • LandWISE traditionalists be assured; Days 2 and 3 follow the usual pattern. But do have a look at the Day 1 programme – you’ll find a lot there that can give you completely new ideas.

The draft programme and more details are available here http://www.landwise.org.nz/events/landwise2012/. This page will be updated as conference draws nearer, and you’ll receive direct messages too.

Conference registration is available on-line. As usual, discounted rates for members.

Conference Platinum Sponsor

We are very pleased to announce Eastern Institute of Technology as a new Platinum Sponsor for Conference 2012. There are strong cross-overs between an institute such as this and LandWISE with our focus on upskilling for the primary industry sectors.

EIT has a very strong viticulture and wine programme, and is also active in agriculture and horticulture in Hawke’s Bay and the East Coast/Tairawhiti.

Key Speakers

We are also delighted that Rob Bramley from CSIRO in Adelaide will be one of our key presenters. Rob is well known for his precision viticulture work, but is also very experienced in broadacre crops.

Tom Botterill from the Geospatial Research Centre at the University of Canterbury will talk about machine vision and robot pruning. More announcements coming soon . . .

 

Driverless Tractor

LandWISE Member Matt Flowerday from GPS-It sent a link to this site for a new driverless tractor.

A few of you have expressed interest in autonomous tractors – so with a favourable exchange rate and a $US 150,000 price tag, here’s your chance.

It’s interesting for a few reasons:

  • The 225 kW tractor can be controlled in real-time from a base station with a remote control device that can be up to 40 km away. The master base station can handle up to 16 operating tractors at one time.
  • Hew can couple units together for more power, like train locomotives
  • It uses twin laser unit called LIPS (Laser Imaging Position System) rather than GPS (we need to learn more about LIPS)
  • Power is diesel electric with a 15 to 25% better fuel economy than conventional systems

Australian Conferences

Dan attended the SPAA Precision Agriculture Australia Expo in Port Lincoln, South Australia and the precisionagriculture.com.au Conference in Maroochydor, Queensland in February.
Speakers discussed nutrient tests we don’t use, plants we seldom grow, pests, diseases and weeds that remain thankfully foreign, and yields most New Zealand farmers would consider disastrous. They talked of soil electromagnetic sensors, pH sensors, biomass sensors, protein sensors, animal trackers and robots. Of precision farming in Canada, Scotland, England, New Zealand, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

The messages were strikingly familiar. In essence; know and look after your soil, monitor your crop, and apply inputs where they give the best returns.
At both events, the farm was the focus; the technologies merely tools to help manage better. Much, much better.

A couple of areas to watch:

  • UAV proliferation. There are more and more self-flying ‘toy’ planes and helicopters suited to crop inspection tasks. With increasingly light and quality cameras, and return to base GPS guidance they have great potential. There are a few issues yet with processing the data, and like all sensor things, ground trothing is still needed.
  • RFID Tags. The advances in electronic tagging have been very fast, and new applications are only now being realised. With new technologies, the range of some devices has become quite extraordinary, offering ability to track items or animals at increasing distances. Cheaply.

A Guide to Smart Farming

Our Guide to Smart Farming book has been the subject of tremendous acclaim from farmers, industry, researchers and teaching staff in New Zealand and overseas. Thanks for the feedback!

About 7,000 copies were printed, and we’ve only 300 left in stock, so that’s a lot that are out there and, from what we hear, being read.

Purchasing copies:

A Guide to Smart Farming was distributed free to people in the LandWISE Community. Extra copies are available through TradeMe at $29.90 plus post including GST. Search TradeMe guide smart farming and it will pop up.

See the Table of Contents here>

Guide to Smart Farming well received

A Guide to Smart Farming was published in December 2011. It was widely distributed in January 2012 with complimentary copies sent to LandWISE members, Rural Contractors , Foundation for Arable Research and Horticulture New Zealand levy payers. To date over 6,000 copies have been delivered and feed back has been extremely positive.

A Guide to Smart Farming contains a wealth of information, including case studies of farmers using new technologies, and expert articles explaining how the technologies work.

“New Zealand has a unique ability to supply quality produce to a rapidly increasing global market,” says Hew Dalrymple. “But to do so sustainably requires new approaches to farming and new skills for those on the land.”

The book encapsulates learning which is the result of many years’ collaboration, especially between LandWISE, the Foundation for Arable Research, Horticulture New Zealand, and Plant & Food Research. At its core are Sustainable Farming fund projects, Advanced Cropping Systems and Holding it Together.

View the Table of Contents here>

With orders now coming from across New Zealand and Australia, as well as the United Kingdom and Brasil, we’ve set up on-line shopping. Those in New Zealand and Australia will find the esiest way to purchase is via TradeMe. Search for “guide smart farming” and you’ll get to the auction page. The buy now price is $29-90 plus post. Others should contact us at LandWISE

Those who have already read the book are invited to post comment here.

Can NZ arable farmers profitably adopt GPS guidance Technology?

Peter Mitchell from Oamaru completed the Kellogg Rural Leadership programme on 2009. As part of his work he asked the question, “Can New Zealand arable growers profitiably adopt GPS guidance technology?”

Peter has given permission for his report to be published on the LandWISE website. It is a good and enlightening read.

You can view a pdf version of Peter’s report here> Can NZ arable farmers profitably adopt GPS guidance technology?

We welcome your feedback!

Smart Farming the Game to be in

This article first appeared in The GROWER magazine in December 2011

Dan Bloomer, LandWISE

A Guide to Smart Farming

“New Zealand has a unique ability to supply quality produce to a rapidly increasing global market,” says Hew Dalrymple. “But to do so sustainably requires new approaches to farming and new skills for those on the land.”

A book published in December contains a wealth of information that will help. A Guide to Smart Farming has case studies of farmers using new technologies, and expert articles explaining how the technologies work.

The book encapsulates learning which is the result of many years’ collaboration, especially between LandWISE, the Foundation for Arable Research, Horticulture New Zealand, and Plant & Food Research. At its core are Sustainable Farming fund projects, Advanced Cropping Systems and Holding it Together.

View the Table of Contents here>

Advanced Cropping Systems

Advanced Cropping Systems followed twelve farmers assessing precision farming technology. Perhaps not surprisingly, the focus for some shifted in the three years of the project.

FAR’s Tracey Wylie worked with Tim Macfarlane mapping weed infestations with a canopy sensor. Their weed map did not correlate very well with the weed problem, but a soil map did.  As Tracey and Tim say, “We need to take all the information we have into account, we can’t assume a single tool will tell us what we want to know.”

Travis and Nigel Sue fitted RTK-GPS and autosteer for their fresh vegetable operation. Now the rows are dead straight and perfectly spaced every time. They have labour and input savings, and no land is wasted. “We should have had it years ago,” they say.

A half-paddock trial of permanent beds for onions, potatoes and cereals at A.S Wilcox and Sons controlled traffic on the paddock and saved soil, oil and toil. Already expanded to 40ha, they are now focused on rolling the new system out across the business.

Hugh Ritchie wants easy data transfer between GPS devices and computer programmes to avoid double and triple data entry, avoid errors, and increase efficiency. Unfortunately a solution does not look imminent! Sjaak Wolfert is leading a major EU project on this topic. “This is a global problem. There is no single standard for data exchange in agriculture, and manufacturers are slow to use those that are available,” Sjaak says.

In partnership with Keith Nicoll, Hugh has made major advances with precision drainage installing plastic pipe with a gravel envelope. The equipment maps the paddock using RTK-GPS, calculates the drain gradients, and controls the laying machinery automatically, removing costs from the operation.

Holding it Together

Holding it Together focused on retaining soil and soil quality. Plant & Food scientist Paul Johnstone led the Fresh Vegetable Product Group, Potatoes New Zealand, LandWISE project. “There are many practical things we can do to look after this key resource,” he says.

Scott Lawson is one of several crop farmers using furrow dyking in their wheel tracks. “It is normal practice for us now,” he says. “We were getting crop loss after rain or irrigation when water ran along wheel tracks and drowned out crop. The furrow dyker keeps the water where it lands while it soaks in.”

Antonia Glaria worked with Paul on a range of cover crop options for fresh vegetable growers. They found maize could recapture lost nutrients including nitrogen. “We’ve studied maize in a number of situations,” says Paul. “It is a very deep rooted crop, and a great scavenger of nutrients. In some cases, all the nutrients needed can be obtained from deep in the soil – nutrients that would otherwise leach and cause problems down the track.”

A Guide to Smart Farming is a great publication,” says Hew Dalrymple. “Every cropping farmer should get a copy and read it. It will help them maximise opportunities and make sure our land and water is in the best condition for the next generation.”

Orders

Copies of the book A Guide to Smart Farming are available from LandWISE for $NZ 29-95 plus postage: Click here or contact us via info@landwise.org.nz

New Zealand and Australian residents can order copies and pay on-line by credit card via TradeMe. Search for Guide to Smart Farming

Feedback

Please feel free to post feedback – does the book give good information? What could be added or updated?