Category Archives: Controlled Traffic Systems

Farmers Profit from GPS Technology

LandWISE project creates cost savings for farmers

From, The Farmlands Shareholder, September 2009.
 
When fuel prices went through the roof last year, LandWISE was already working with farmers using technology to reduce fuel costs on their farms. 

These tools are used by LandWISE farmers to implement Advanced Farming Systems to improve their farm returns.
 
LandWISE Manager Dan Bloomer and Project Co-ordinator James Powrie are working with farmers from around New Zealand.  Twelve farmers, spread through Hawke’s Bay, Waikato, Manawatu, Pukekohe, Gisborne and Canterbury, have stepped up as case study farms in the Sustainable Farming Fund Advanced Farming Systems project. 

The farmers have all invested in high quality GPS and auto-steer systems.  Their common theme is increasing profitability and improving soil and farm resilience in the face of climate change.
 
Farmlands is a key sponsor of the LandWISE Advanced Farming Systems project. The project aims to promote the successful use of technologies such as GPS, to slash fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, cut other inputs and enhance soil quality on farms.
 
Hugh Ritchie, a board member of LandWISE Incorporated and one of the case study farmers says, “LandWISE researches important farm projects that might otherwise not be tackled.  We are a small organization with a strong track record for producing new, practical solutions for arable and crop farmers.”

LandWISE provides an umbrella under which farmers, growers, industry and research organisations can gather. They discuss, develop and implement feasibility trials using these technologies. 

Advanced farming systems have resulted in increased production and substantial fuel, labour and equipment savings for Gisborne maize grower and LandWISE board member, David Clark.
 
After many years of conventional cropping, experiencing soil compaction, poor soil structure and reduced earthworm presence on his farm, David has developed the use of GPS to control traffic. 
 
‘Controlled Traffic’ means the same wheel tracks or ‘tramlines’ are used for all tractor operations. This results not only in increased production and time saving, but also in substantial financial savings for the business.
 
Each year, high accuracy Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) GPS positioning technology and self-steering keeps operations on exactly the same tracks.   This results in restricted soil compaction, improved soil quality, better yields and increased earthworm activity.
 
Today, David runs two tractors instead of four, has halved his fuel costs and reduced labour costs too.  Localised soil compaction in the permanent tramlines is now an asset that supports equipment, with the “garden” growing between them free from the damage from tractor tyres.
 
GPS and auto-steering is key to improved accuracy and makes the job less demanding, resulting in reduced fatigue and increased productivity.  GPS is an investment that is changing the way people farm, with immediate and long term benefits.

To find out more about LandWISE and Advanced Farming Systems go to www.landwise.org.nz

Advanced Farming Systems Project and LandWISE

Growers from Pukekohe to Canterbury are gearing up with technology to increase returns and improve the structure and water holding capacity of their soils.  They are part of the LandWISE Advanced Farming Systems project which is being run with help from the Sustainable Farming Fund, FAR and industry supporters.
These farmers are putting high accuracy GPS into their tractors, and making changes to their farming systems to gain improved soil health, savings on fuel, water, steel, fertilizer and agrichemicals and reduced Green House Gas (GHG) emissions.  
The crops grown include maize and cereals, potatoes, process and fresh market vegetables and salad crops for supermarkets.  In every sector, there is an advanced farming systems application of benefit. “This project is very much a partnership with FAR,” says LandWISE’s Dan Bloomer. “It’s not about technology off the shelf, it’s about how we use technology to allow smarter farming.”
Advanced Farming Systems is a term that describes the integration of new technologies into farming.   High accuracy GPS makes it possible to farm in new ways, by precisely guiding tractors and implements and capturing, recording and managing information.  Some of the farmers are investigating alternative approaches to soil management, others are focused on weeds or soil moisture. 
Canterbury arable farmer and contractor, Randal Hanrahan, has been establishing Advanced Farming Systems on his family farm in Ashburton.  “We have invested a lot in this property and now need to make sure we farm it as efficiently as possible”.  Randal has converted from border dyke to centre pivot to improve water use efficiency and flexibility.  Using GPS is allowing him to make the same kind of shift with cropping systems.  “We invested in GPS to improve our contracting business, now it is changing the way we farm, and it is exciting to see the changes it allows us to make.”
GPS with autosteer gives immediate savings in fuel, fertiliser, seed and time inputs, just by avoiding overlaps and increasing field work efficiency.  Randal is aiming to get a controlled traffic system up and running.   “That is challenging”, he says, “because our equipment has many different wheel tracks and swath widths.  But because we know where we want to be, we are planning for that as we replace equipment.  Compaction compromises our soil and so it is worth investing to do less of that.”  Farm labour challenges make it harder to find an operator with the skills to drive straight.   GPS and autosteer means that anyone can and then they can focus on the implement and the soil. Randal says, “Once they are skilled in GPS, any operator can become your best”.
Chris Butler at NZ Fresh Cuts is also using high accuracy GPS and tractor guidance.  His initial focus is removing higher cost cultivation operations. Growing crops on permanent beds is reducing compaction in their maize, salad and carrot production.  “Our fuel savings are recovering the cost of the investment in GPS.  Our gains in operational efficiency, reduced cultivation time and R&M are a big bonus”- Chris says. 
NZ Fresh Cuts also experience land utilisation gains, because they spend less time waiting for weather and soil conditions to be right for cultivation and planting operations.  “Salad greens are in and out very fast”, says Chris. “If we can avoid between-crop delays, we can grow more crops in the same piece of ground.”  “We are also expecting to see water stored more effectively as these soils improve, which should reduce any risk of nutrient leaching,” he says.
Farmers like Chris are adopting Advanced Farming Systems as a key to improving sustainability and profit in the face of economic and environmental challenges. 
They are finding their investment in Advanced Farming Systems can reduce overall capital and variable costs and improve profitability in ground breaking ways.  Some participating farmers have reduced their fleets in both tractor numbers and horsepower. 
David Clark adopted RTK-GPS and controlled traffic farming for maize in 2003.  Conventional cropping at his farm, Opou Station, near Gisborne had David concerned about compaction, soil structure and reduced earthworm presence. Since adopting a controlled traffic system, the soils are improving and earthworm activity is increasingly present.  “Before controlled traffic we seemed to have a slow drop in yields, but now those yields are climbing again,” David says.
David has seen his fuel use halved since investing in GPS and reduced his tractor fleet from four to two. “The fuel tanker driver asked me where I had been getting my fuel” he says. “As the soil frees up, it requires less energy to work and that means less fuel.  We generally direct drill now and strip-till where we need a bit of cultivation, usually to tidy up headlands.”
In conjunction with FAR, LandWISE will hold field days on Advanced Farming Systems, to allow those interested to view new technology being used on farms around New Zealand.  Anyone and everyone are welcome to register with LandWISE to receive notification of events.
To learn more about Advanced Farming Systems, GPS and Precision Agriculture see:
 www.landwise.org.nz/advancedfarmingsystems.php  
Information requests to info@landwise.org.nz or Phone Dan Bloomer or James Powrie at 06 6504531.
Trends in GPS use
LandWISE is supporting the integration of GPS and other tools into the mainstream.  Dan Bloomer of LandWISE says: “The trend is for new users of GPS to keep adding GPS units into their tractor fleets, once they see the benefits.  They start with driving straight rows and gain immediate field efficiency, and savings from that. 
Why Farmers Join LandWISE
LandWISE draws together farmers, advisors, science providers and regulators to work co-operatively on more sustainable crop production.
LandWISE is a small organization with a strong track record of supporting development and adoption of new technologies.  LandWISE has much to offer as we confront the challenges of climate change. 
More farmers want to learn ways to improve profitability, while reducing GHG emissions and improving soil and farm resilience in the face of climate change.  This happens with fewer cultivation passes and reduced tractor horsepower requirements which can result from GPS use in cropping.
James Powrie of LandWISE says, “When you join LandWISE you join an excellent group of farmers who are bringing new technology into their businesses to be more successful into the future.” 
Members get discounted attendance at the LandWISE conference, held in May.  Farmers and industry people meet there each year to learn how new technologies can be used to enhance soils, refine water and nutrient management and reduce chemical, fuel and labour inputs.  This is the event in NZ for farmers wanting to learn more about GPS and precision agriculture.
Sign up two people from your organisation and register a third for free.
www.landwise.org.nz/memberform.php

LandWISE 2009 Conference

As published in Grower Magazine, June 2009

“Read the . . . Manual!” delegates to the LandWISE ‘Confronting Climate Challenges’ Conference were told.  Wade Riley was outlining requirements for success in setting up farm systems to gain the most from GPS in cropping. “Use a tape measure” was another point.   What farmers are realising is just how ‘nominal’ many equipment sizes can be. Much cropping equipment is US sourced, and the old 30” row spacing is common.  But that can be anywhere from 27” to 34” on a single machine!  “Just because you paid for forty feet, doesn’t mean you got forty feet, and if the wrong implement width is entered in your GPS, well…” said Wade.

Some 140 people attended the LandWISE Conference in Havelock North in May.  LandWISE’s James Powrie says they are very pleased with the turnout. “We had support from excellent presenters, great sponsors, and key growers and delegates,” he said.

Leading growers and industry support people attended the two day conference and field sessions.  They came to hear about new developments in the use of advanced farming systems to improve profit and sustainability in vegetable growing, cropping, dairy farming and viticulture.

Speakers from UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and USA covered a range of topics across water, weed, traffic, data and nutrient management.  Farming smarter with new technology reduces farm inputs and is rapidly changing the way crops are grown.  Hugh Ritchie says, “The technologies are here and people are gaining from using them.  So it bodes well for all sectors that so many people showed up to learn more about it”. 

LandWISE has Sustainable Farming Fund funding for a three year project, investigating how tools such as GPS guidance, crop and soil sensors, and spatial software can help farmers reduce carbon emissions and mitigate adverse effects predicted under climate change.  LandWISE’s Dan Bloomer explains that the project is very much a partnership. “We have a number of key project sponsors including the Foundation for Arable Research and the HortNZ Process Vegetable Product Group.  Add to this Farmlands, New Zealand Fresh Cuts, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, Gisborne District Council and Ballance Agrinutrients and you can see the breadth of the interest from the cropping sector and industries. The regional councils can see how these technologies can help preserve soil resources and help farmers respond to climate change threats.”

James notes, “Taking ownership of [the system] is more than just buying the equipment. It requires planning to make GPS and other tools work to save fuel, labour, fertiliser, steel and other inputs”.

Speakers gave excellent practical advice and updates. Phil Dobson and John McPhee from Tasmania covered controlled traffic farming for vegetables both in New Zealand and Australia.  They reminded the audience that the soil condition to best support tractor traffic (compacted ground) is least supportive for growing plants, which require loose, friable soil conditions.  Controlled traffic ensures that we grow in the ‘gardens’ and create permanent ‘roads’ for tractors.  When you save fuel in controlled traffic, other savings in steel, labour and capital investment, tend to follow along.

Water management is changing fast, and Ian Yule from the Centre for Precision Agriculture introduced EM38 electromagnetic sensing of soils and the link to water management to bring efficiency to irrigation.  Stu Bradbury of Precision Irrigation explained systems for delivery of variable rate pivot irrigation so that correct water rates are applied.  Application rates are based on computerised farm maps, variable with crop type and stage, soil composition and the ability to turn off nozzles as they pass over sheds, races and roads.

Increases in fertiliser costs reflect inputs of oil and energy and so the benefits of applying technology to improve application methods can bring gains in finance and for the environment.  Hayden Lawrence of Spatial Solutions showed how sensing tools can be used to optimise nutrient management on-farm and Caine Thompson showed how sensing and mapping tools enable zonal harvest management in viticulture.

While farm input costs are climbing, the good news is, that the options and costs of technology to save on these inputs are improving rapidly.  LandWISE is a good place to hear about it.   “If you are not using [this technology] to take cost out of your business and make it more sustainable, what are you doing?” asks Chris Butler from NZ Fresh Cuts.

Gold Sponsors of the Conference were Leica Geosystems, WaterForce and Foundation for Arable Research.

LandWISE is a forum for sharing information on new technology for smarter farming and on-farm research.  For more on LandWISE events and membership  go to www.landwise.org.nz Register there for free newsletters on Advanced Farming and Precision Agriculture.


First Steps to Space Age Technology in your Tractor

As published in Grower, August 2009.

We often hear about how the aerospace industry has given us so much, and how many human activities are gaining the benefit of new technologies.   GPS or satellite navigation, is an everyday tool in many industries and recreational pursuits and farmers are becoming big users too. 
Let’s turn the clock back for a moment.
In July forty years ago, we heard the news that Armstrong and Aldrin had set down on the face of the moon and mankind had taken its first step, on soil in space.  Historic limitations were swept aside by a decision.  JFK said it, and NASA did it, and after a huge team effort (400,000 people contributed to the project) NASA astronaut  Jim Lovell was able to say… “From now on we’ll live in a world where man has walked on the Moon. It’s not a miracle, we just decided to go.”
Apollo 11’s on-board computer, had 36Kb of memory – that’s probably less than most emails you send today.  Navigation and fuel capacity were determined after long-winded calculations, on slide rules and with pencil and paper.  Trusting souls, those astronauts.  
Today a cropping tractor equipped with GPS has thousands of times more computing power than all of NASA had back in the sixties.
In New Zealand the adoption of GPS for cropping has been accelerating.  With the current economic conditions and the need for farmers to improve their efficiency, there is growing interest in how GPS and related technology is helping them to be more efficient.  
“It is getting simpler and cheaper to put user friendly, space age technology in your tractor and make your cropping work easier, quicker – and more interesting”.  says Dan Bloomer at LandWISE.
GPS helps farmers to cut costs, to reduce the number of operations in their system and to make more money.  In fact, GPS providers here and in the US, report that the demand for precision agriculture equipment is growing while their other sectors contract in the current “r”.  
The LandWISE Advanced Farming Systems project is promoting the use of such technology in vegetable growing and cropping.  It is sponsored by the MAF Sustainable Farming Fund, Regional Councils, growers and other suppliers.
“It gets easier and easier to use GPS and we keep finding new ways to apply it in our system, whether to plant, weed, harvest or gather site data to manage nutrients, soil and irrigation. It is an indispensable tool for what we do ”. says Scott Lawson of True Earth Organics.
GPS is simple to use.  When James Powrie started at LandWISE last November, Hugh Ritchie gave him 15 minutes of training on his Trimble RTK GPS, before leaving  James, to finish subsoiling a squash paddock. 
“It was easy and fun and the driving was bullet straight, within a cm or two of the line.   I can’t say the work was all mine though”. 
The tractor was steering itself, with help of an autosteer system controlled by GPS via computer and the tractor’s own hydraulic system.

The LandWISE website, at www.landwise.org.nz is full of information, articles and events for anyone interested in technology in cropping.  The LandWISE conference, in May each year, is a great place to come before you take a small step of your own, or to learn more about Advanced Farming Systems and Precision Agriculture. 
We may also be able to put you in touch with farmers in your neighbourhood  who are using Advanced Farming Systems and GPS, if you would like to see the technology at work.  Email or call LandWISE for information.
LandWISE is a forum for sharing information on new technology for smarter farming and on farm research.  For more on LandWISE field days, discussion groups, events and membership, go to www.landwise.org.nz or phone James Powrie 06 6504531.