Category Archives: Precision Agriculture

Baker Ag “Inspiring Agriculture”

The BakerAg Winter Seminar

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

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

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

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

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

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

To book your tickets talk to

LandWISE 2017: Are we ready for automation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Register now – click here!


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


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.  

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.

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.

New Zealand Soil Management Field Days

Don’t miss LandWISE 2017: Are we ready for automation?
24th-25th May 2017, Havelock North

8th-9th March 2017, Pukekawa, Pukekohe

The NZ Soil Management Field Days offer a two day field aimed at all areas of crop production that needs to cultivate the soil.

The two Days aim to bring together a broad selection of machinery companies keen to demonstrate their products both new and existing.Also present will be new technology looking to improve our understanding of the soil and better ways to control weeds and disease.

Catering on site will be available for the two days with coffee and hot food. Upon registration the first 250 entrants will receive a free event hat.

On the first afternoon FAR will give three presentations on:

  1. Research outcomes for soil management and environmental issues
  2. Cultivation techniques long term trial Northern Crop research site
  3. Soil quality results from focus on potatoes project and then these will be repeated in in the morning of the second day.

Once again many thanks to all the main sponsors and exhibitors and to Sundale Farms for the use of the site.

Location: 585 Highway 22, Pukekawa 2696

This is an opportunity to see new technology and techniques from a broad base of suppliers from throughout New Zealand.

The  Pukekohe area has a unique 12 months of the year growing potential, a wide variety of crops grown, and some of the biggest grower operations in the country. Within New Zealand there are many companies with  new ideas and great equipment which don’t get seen.

Special note to suppliers and potential sponsors

Contact the organisers to ask any questions, they are hoping to accommodate as many companies as possible and expect growers from all over the country to come.

Email the organisers:


Benchmarking Onion Variability 2016-17

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But some differences are unexpected and so far reasons unexplained.

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

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

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

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

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

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


MicroFarm Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artificial heavy rain event applied after planting and before emergence

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

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

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

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

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