Category Archives: LandWISE People

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!


New LandWISE Chair – John Evans

The LandWISE Board recently appointed John Evans as LandWISE Chair, replacing long serving Chair Hugh Ritchie.  We are delighted that John has agreed to take on the Chairmanship role as we navigate a rapidly changing future for farming and for LandWISE itself.

John and partner Kai Tegels farm a 271 ha Arable and Stock property at Dorie in mid-Canterbury, specialising in vegetable seed production. He actively seeks new knowledge and applies it in innovative ways to achieve sustainable development of the farm.

John was an early adopter of GPS autosteer, high accuracy implement guidance and has trialled most precision agriculture technologies, retaining those that demonstrate value and utility in his farming system. He is a sought after research partner across  arable and precision farming and regularly hosts research trials for a range of organisations.

John has been involved with LandWISE since 2004 when he assisted the field testing protocols in the Code of Practice for Irrigation Evaluation with his boom and linear-move irrigators being the first assessed. He has since hosted training courses for people undertaking the National Certification in Irrigation Performance Assessment.

In recent years the farm has seen considerable investment in irrigation development including new technologies and on-farm water storage. John and Kai have an ongoing program planting trees and shrubs to enhance the environment and benefit bees and other beneficial insects.

John noted the strip-tillage work being carried out in Hawke’s Bay and saw a place for it in Canterbury. We arranged a loan of parts from Hugh Ritchie, John built a tool bar and tested the system initially for seed carrot production. He also demonstrated it at a FAR Chertsey field day.

LandWISE links have been maintained through various Sustainable Farming Fund and Foundation for Arable Research projects such as “Short-term forecasting of weather conditions for cropping farmers” which involved assessment of site specific hourly forecasts.

As a farmer member of “Advanced Farming Systems” which included assessing satellite NDVI imagery he was able to identify different plots in a FAR carrot seed trial.

John has maintained a watchful eye on our other initiatives, offering insight and advice.  He featured in the LandWISE publication “A Guide to Smart Farming”.

John completed a B Ag Com degree at Lincoln in 1979. He was instrumental in setting up the Certificate in Seed Technology at Lincoln University and completed its first course in 2000. He is a long standing member of FAR’s Mid-Canterbury ARG, a Board member of Process Vegetables NZ and active in process vegetables research.

John’s knowledge and achievements have been widely recognised, including being awarded the Agronomy Society of New Zealand Certificate of Achievement in Agronomy, winning the Ballance AgriNutrients Nutrient Management award and the WaterForce Integrated management award in the 2012 Canterbury Ballance Environmental Awards, and being a finalist in the Lincoln University Foundation South Island Farmer of The Year and Innovation Finalist in 2011.

Soil to sprinkler, automating irrigation management

Anthony (Tony) Davoren is a Director of Aqualinc with responsibility for the HydroServices business unit that provides irrigation and environmental management services; soil moisture, and water level and water meter monitoring. 

Tony’s expertise in and knowledge of soils and hydraulic properties, irrigation systems and design, and crop water demand has been applied and enhanced over the last 35 years working in these fields.

We asked Tony to talk about automating irrigation – from the soil to the sprinkler and round again. He’s doing just that at LandWISE 2017: Are we ready for automation?

Tony says several questions need to be asked and honest answers or solutions given:

  • Are we and you ready?
  • What do we need?
  • Is automating irrigation management wise or the right solution?

Are we or you ready?

When considering automating irrigation management, both the provider and the user must be an “innovators”; i.e. they must be in the top 2.5% of the industry.  It may be that some “early adopters”, the next 13.5% of the industry, might be ready for the technology and its application to automate irrigation management.

What do we need?

Because it will be the innovators who adopt and field prove any technologies, these technologies must be robust and proven with a sound scientific backing.  Innovators will identify the financial benefits of the automation, which needs:

  • Well-designed irrigation systems
  • High uniformity irrigation systems
  • Well maintained irrigation systems
  • Precise soil moisture and/or crop monitoring systems
  • Interface “model” to irrigation controller

Are these all in place?

Is automation wise or the right solution?

Tony established HydroServices providing on-farm irrigation management services based on in situ soil moisture measurements in Canterbury, Pukekohe, Waikato, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, Manawatu, Wairarapa and Central Otago. During this he provided specialist soil moisture monitoring for Foundation for Arable Research, LandWISE, Crown Research Institutes, Regional Councils, Clandeboye Dairy Factory and others.

Tony completed his PhD in Engineering Science at Washington State University, Pullman, USA.

Supporting digital innovation

We are delighted that Dr Amanda Lynn is confirmed as a key speaker at our Annual AgTech Conference LandWISE 2017: Are we ready for automation?

Amanda’s focus for this event is on moving “change” away from something that happens to us, to something we do as a natural part of our personal, business, economic and social development. This is called “purposive change” and she will explain how we create, adapt and integrate it.

When we talk about change we often do so without a clear idea of what is meant, and without recognition of our own—individual and collective—roles in adapting to change, or even catalysing it. 

We seldom talk about levels of change and processes of development; instead, getting caught in black and white terminology like “disruption” and forgetting that change is natural, incremental and evolutionary. 

Innovation is purposive change.  We can sometimes forget that purposive change is something we—people—are very, very good at.  And there’s a lot of us; resulting in a lot of purposive change. 

The Executive Director of the Innovation Partnership, and Chair of the Innovation Partnership Forum,  Amanda specialises in development. 

The Innovation Partnership is a not-for-profit Trust.  Sponsored by Google, Chorus and InternetNZ, the Innovation Partnership connects businesses, educators and Government entities to support digital innovation. 

In addition to working with the Innovation Partnership, Amanda leads her own contracting enterprise, Mandolin Associates, undertaking public speaking, research and advisory services, and through this has worked closely with some of New Zealand’s leading agriculture and aquaculture innovators. 

Amanda is a member of the New Zealand Association of Economists, and a Professional Member of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Is the Juice worth the Squeeze?

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts, Head of Industrial Robotics at Cambridge Consultants UK is confirmed as a keynote speaker for our Annual Conference. LandWISE 2017: Are we ready for automation?

Cambridge Consultants is a world-class supplier of innovative product development engineering and technology consulting with more than 500 staff including scientists, mathematicians, engineers and designers.

Chris was one of the presenters at AgriTech-East’s Robotics Pollinator in October 2016, which Dan attended as part of his Trimble Foundation Study Trip investigating farm robotics.

“I was really impressed with Chris and his presentation. He worked clearly  and methodically through the issues that need very careful consideration.” 

In this presentation Chris will take a look at the prospects for robotic fruit harvesting, an issue of note in New Zealand as production levels rise and labour availability reduces.

Some of Chris’ questions:

  • Automation has existed in agriculture for decades: what’s new?
  • Why hasn’t it happened everywhere already?
  • Which tasks to automate?
  • What has to come together for a  successful harvesting robot?

Chris will address these questions and more at LandWISE 2017.

Hyperspectral imaging to map species distribution

Tommy Cushnahan is a PhD student at Massey University within the NZ Centre for Precision Agriculture.

Tommy is presenting some of his research at LandWISE 2017: Are we ready for automation?

Remotely sensed hyperspectral data provides the possibility to categorise and quantify the farm landscape in great detail, supplementing local expert knowledge and adding confidence to decisions.

In his presentation, Tommy will explain how hyperspectral aerial imagery is being used to classify various components of the hill country farming landscape. He focuses on development of techniques to identify and classify various vegetation components including water, tracks/soil, Manuka, scrub, gum, poplar and other tree species. 

Tommy’s PhD has been funded by Ravensdown and MPI as part of the PGP project “pioneering to precision”.  A background in agronomy and 15 years’ experience in golf course design, construction and project management has developed an array of real-world skills that has helped shape his research. His goal is for his work to produce tangible benefits for hill country farmers.

LandWISE Board 2016-17

A new Board was elected at the Special General Meeting in September 2016.  We welcome new members and thank those retired, some after very long service.

Hugh Ritchie and Scott Lawson retired at the 2016 meeting. Both have been actively involved since the beginning of LandWISE, chairing the Board and helping in many other ways. They remain keen to stay closely involved in advisory capacities.

We are similarly grateful to retiring Mike Flynn and Douglas Giles for their contributions. Mike has also been a solid supporter, long time Board member and with McCain Foods agriculture staff championed the strip-till and minimum tillage work that occupied the first years of LandWISE. Douglas is well known in the Manawatu for his innovative approaches to cropping region.

2016-2017 Board members

  • Mark Burgess, The University of Auckland, Auckland
  • Andrew Dawson, Callaghan Innovation, Wellington
  • Stuart Dykes, Haden & Custance, Hastings
  • John Evans, Tregynon Farm, Canterbury
  • Paul Munro, Peracto NZ, Auckland
  • Brendan Powell, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council
  • Mark Redshaw, Ballance AgriNutrients, Hawke’s Bay
  • Bruce Searle, Plant & Food Research, Hawke’s Bay
  • John van der Linden, Villa Maria Estates, Hawke’s Bay
  • Simon Wilcox, A. S. Wilcox, Pukekohe

New Board Members

John Evans is a long time LandWISE supporter and a cropping farmer from Rakaia near Ashburton. He grows process vegetables, cereals and specialist seed crops and has some grazing. He has a strong technical and computing bent and wide experience with precision agriculture technologies.

Stuart Dykes is GM of Hayden and Custance, a local robotics company. Stuart has wide experience in mechanical engineering and food science including the viticulture sector. He chaired the VOLBI group that put forward the Hawke’s Bay AgTech Regional Research Institute proposal and says the role LandWISE can play connecting research, technology and farmers /growers is enormously valuable.

John van der Linden is Vineyards Systems Manager at Villa Maria Estate with an overview of viticultural practice and special projects. He was one of the active supporters of the regional research institute proposal and believes LandWISE has a key role supporting new technologies and systems in viticulture and other horticultural activities.

Andrew Dawson is GM of Research at Callaghan Innovation. A strong LandWISE supporter over recent years, he has a very strong knowledge of sensing technologies and commercialisation of technology. He sees LandWISE as a key link between practising farmers and the technology community

Mark Burgess is Director, Institute for Innovation in Biotechnology at the University of Auckland. He was previously with Auckland UniServices linking research and industry and has identified LandWISE as a unique organisation in the agri-tech space.

The Future

This year the Board began reviewing our direction, a process to be completed and presented at the May 2017 AGM. Any thoughts? What is important to you?

Talk to a Board Member or Dan – help shape our future

In Search of Farm Robots: Ch 1

A version of this article previously appeared in The Grower

Dan Bloomer has been travelling in Australia and Europe asking, “How ready are robots for farmers and how ready are farmers for robots?”

Notable areas of active research and development globally are scouting, weeding and fruit picking.  Success requires machines that can determine and follow a route traversing whatever terrain it must, capture information, identify and selectively remove weeds, and identify, pick and transport fruit.  They have to sense, analyse, plan and act.

Robotics is widespread in industries such as car manufacturing that have the exactly the same task being repeated over and over again. With possible exception of robotic milking, farm operations are not like that. Virtually every single case is unique with unique responses needed.

Many groups around the world are looking at robotic weeding . There are many items needing attention. How do we tell weeds from crop plants? Can we do that fast enough and reliably enough to make a robot commercially viable on-farm? Once identified, how do we optimise robotic arm movement to best attack a patch of weeds?

The Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) at the University of Sydney is well known for its field robots such as the solar powered Ladybird. The new generation Ladybird is known as Rippa, and is currently undergoing endurance testing. Look on YouTube for ACFR videos and you’ll even see SwagBot moving around rolling hill country.

A key theme for Rob Fitch and colleagues is Active Perception: perception being what we can detect with what accuracy and confidence; active meaning in real time and including planning actions. They invest heavily in developing mathematics to get fast results. And they are succeeding.

Using Intel’s RealSense structured light camera it takes them less than half a second to identify and precisely locate groups of apples on a trellis. Within that time they also calculate exactly where to place the camera to get a second confirming view.

Smart maths allow ACFR scientists to capture 3D images and identify and locate apples in less than half a second
Smart maths allow ACFR scientists to capture 3D images and identify and locate apples in less than half a second

Cheryl McCarthy and colleagues at the National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture (NCEA) are conducting a range of research projects that integrate autonomous sensing and control with on-farm operations to robotically manage inputs within a crop. Major projects include automation for weed spot spraying, adaptive control for irrigation optimisation, and remote crop surveillance using cameras and remotely piloted aircraft.

At LandWISE 2015, Cheryl reported on their machine vision and sensing system for weed detection systems that uses depth and colour segmentation and a new processing technique to operate at commercial ground speeds of 10-15 km/h.

Now Cheryl is using UAVs to capture photos of crops, stitching the pictures to get a whole paddock image, then splitting it up again to efficiently identify and locate individual plants and weeds. This is enabling her to create accurate maps some other weed destroying robot can use.

Research at the University of Southern Queensland investigates UAVs to scout paddocks combined with image stitching and analysis for interpretation to create maps of weeds for later treatment

SwarmFarm founders, Andrew and Jocie Bate grow cereals and pulses near Emerald. Spray-fallow is used to conserve water in this dryland environment and WeedSeeker® and Weedit® technologies reduce chemical use to a very small percentage of traditional broadcast application.

4WD SwarmFarm robots carrying WeedSeeker technology cover the paddock spraying only living weeds
4WD SwarmFarm robots carrying WeedSeeker technology cover the paddock spraying only living weeds

With large areas, most growers move to bigger machinery to maximise labour efficiency. This has a number of adverse effects including significant soil damage and inability to work small areas or work efficiently around obstacles such as trees.

SwarmFarm chose robots as practical light weight equipment. They reason that several small machines working together reduce soil impact and have the same work rate as one big machine. Andrew estimates that adoption of 8 m booms versus 34 m booms could increase the effective croppable area in Queensland by 2%.

Are these robots ready for farmers? Are farmers ready for these robots?

Only SwarmFarm has multiple machines currently working on farm in Australia. They are finalising a user interface that will allow non-graduate engineers (smart farmers) to manage the machines.

The question that remains is, “Why would I buy a specialised machine when I can put a driver on a cheaper conventional tractor or higher work rate sprayer and achieve the same?”

Is it the same?

Travel to Australia was supported by a Trimble Foundation Study Grant

In Search of Farm Robots: Ch3 Switzerland, France and England

This article originally appeared in “The Grower”

A desire to reduce soil compaction and avoid high and inefficient use of chemicals and energy inspired Steve Tanner and Aurelien Demaurex to found eco-Robotix in Switzerland.

Their solution is a light-weight fully solar-powered weeding robot, a 2 wheel drive machine with 2D camera vision and basic GPS. Two robotic arms position herbicide nozzles or a mechanical device for precision weed control.

Steve Tanner lab testing the exoRobotix vision and robotic weed control system

The ecoRobotix design philosophy is simplicity and value: avoiding batteries cuts weight, technology requirements and slashes capital costs. It is a step towards their vision of cheap autonomous machines swarming around the farm.

 Bought by small farms, Naio Technologies’ Oz440 is a small French robot designed to mechanically weed between rows. The robots are left weeding while the farmer spends time on other jobs or serving customers. Larger machines for vegetable cropping and viticulture are in development.

Prototypes V1, V2 and V3; precursors to the Naio Oz440 show the steps in a robot’s development

Naio co-founder Gaetan Severac notes Oz440 has no GPS, relying instead on cameras and LiDAR range finders to identify rows and navigate. These are small machines with a total price similar to a conventional agricultural RTK-GPS system, so alternatives are essential. 

Tech companies have responded and several “RTK-GPS” systems are now available under $US1000. Their accuracy and reliability is not known!

Thorvald an example of research collaboration: Norwegian University robot being automated at University of Lincoln show the common design of four wheel steer and four wheel drive

Broccoli is one of the world’s largest vegetable crops and is almost entirely manually harvested, which is costly. Leader Tom Duckett says robotic equipment being developed at the University of Lincoln in England is as good as human pickers at detecting broccoli heads of the right size, especially if the robot can pick through the night.  With identification in hand, development is now on mechanical cutting and collecting.

In 1996, Tillett and Hague Technologies demonstrated an autonomous roving machine selectively spraying individual cabbages.  Having done that, they determined that tractors were effective and concentrated on automating implements. They are experts in vision systems and integration with row and plant identification and machinery actuation, technology embedded in Garford row crop equipment. 

Parrish Farms has their own project adapting a Garford mechanical to strip spray between onion rows. Nick Parrish explained that Black Grass control was difficult, and as available graminicides strip wax off onions boom spraying prevents use of other products for up to two weeks.

Simon Blackmore is a global leader in farm robotics thinking at Harper Adams University. His effort to address robotic safety issues includes a seven level system:

  1. Route planning to avoid hazards and known obstacles
  2. Laser range finder to sense objects and define them as obstacles
  3. Wide area safety curtain sensing ground objects at 2m
  4. Dead man’s handle possibly via smartphone
  5. Collapsible bumper as a physical soft barrier that activates Stop
  6. Big Red Buttons anyone close can see and use to stop the machine
  7. Machines that are small, slow and light minimise inertia

“Hands free hectare” is Harper Adams University’s attempt to grow a commercial crop using open source software and commercially available equipment in an area no-one enters.

Harper Adams research to develop a robotic strawberry harvester is notable for the integration of genetics for varieties with long stalks, a growing system that has plants off the ground, and the robotic technologies to identify, locate and assess the ripeness of individual berries and pick them touching only the peduncle (stalk).

So what have I learned about farm robotics?

  • People believe our food production systems have to change
  • Farm labour is in short supply throughout the western world
  • Machines can’t get bigger as the soil can’t support that
  • Robotics has huge potential but when
  • Safety is a key issue but manageable
  • There is huge investment in research at universities, but also in industry
  • It’s about rethinking the whole system not replacing the driver
  • There are many technologies available, but probably not the mix you want for your application.

As Simon Pearson at the National Centre for Food Manufacturing says, “It’s a Frankenstein thing, this agrobotics. There are all sorts of great bits available but you have to seek them out and stitch them together yourself to make the creature you want.”

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