Category Archives: Research

Onions Update Field Walk

LandWISE MicroFarm
21 Ruahapia Rd, Waipatu, Hastings
Monday 11 December 2:00pm

In our final year of “Benchmarking Onions” we have again planted a crop at the MicroFarm. It went into a suitably moist soil, emerged reasonably evenly but has shown increasing variation. We now have very good areas and very disappointing areas. 

We’ve mapped the crop with our CoverMap system again this season so we can compare 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18 growth patterns. Are there areas that consistently perform better or worse? What is driving the variation we see?

We also have a few different varieties we are tracking to see how canopy development fits our web calculator. We want to know if the same calculations can be applied to phone images or if variety-based tweeks are necessary.

In a couple of fertiliser application trials we comparing standard and late application because we understand most nitrogen is taken up at or after bulbing. And based on our mapping, we are comparing the effects of full and half rates on areas where canopy cover is low. Maybe we can cut back, save fertiliser and leaching and get the same yield with improved bulb quality.

Come along and see for yourself!

Note: This field walk follows the HotGrass electric weeding demonstration, see more here>

Our Onion Research is in conjunction with Plant and Food Research. It is funded by Onions NZ and the Sustainable Farming Fund. This season we are being aided by Apatu Farms who are helping with field operations and harvest and we are very grateful for their support.

 

Public Lecture on Gene Editing

Biotechnology and genetic modification 40 years on and the rise of gene editing

Dr Elspeth MacRae, General Manager Manufacturing & Bioproducts, Scion
Date: 6.00pm Wednesday 11 October 2017
Venue: National Aquarium, Marine Parade, Napier

Admission: Gold coin donation

People have been improving plants and animals for many centuries. Most of the foods we eat and drink have been changed (domesticated) by humans. For many centuries this was done by selecting naturally occurring changes (or mutations) and using them to breed improved plants or animals – a very slow process. More recently we have been able to use biotechnology to make the same sort of changes in a much faster and more predictable way.

This Royal Society Te Aparangi talk will describe these Genetic Modification technologies, including the recent developments in gene editing (CRISPR-cas9). Examples of improved products will be highlighted, and the potential of gene editing to revolutionise food production will be discussed.

Dr Elspeth MacRae is the General Manager Manufacturing & Bioproducts at Scion in Rotorua. She is a member of the management group for the 2014 New Zealand National Science Challenge in Science and Technology for Industry, and leads the design, materials and manufacturing portfolio.

Scion is a Crown Research Institute that specialises in research, science and technology development for the forestry, wood product, wood-derived materials, and other biomaterial sectors.

MicroFarm Update

Some important “Thank you”s:

For the last three seasons, Gerry Steenkamer and family have supported our onion growing and the OnionsNZ Sustainable Farming Fund project on Benchmarking Variability. Without their help we wouldn’t have even had a crop and seen the variability in it in the first place. Since then we’ve been dependent on them for prep and planting, harvest and marketing the crops we’ve produced. We are extremely grateful for that. Many, many thanks Gerry, Jenny, John and all the staff who have done great work for us. It has been a privilege.

This year Apatu Farms have come on board to help us with our final year of the Benchmarking project. So, many thanks too Mark and Paul and your staff who are helping us this season. We especially appreciate fitting our very small but time consuming job into your schedule during a very difficult planting season. With seven different varieties planted, it took even longer than normal, but we are thrilled with the job done.

Two years ago we borrowed a tractor from Mike Glazebrook for a few months. After two seasons, we’ve returned it but also thank Mike and Nigel for their help with MicroFarm activities. The main role of this machine was carrying our sensors, then towing a small spray trailer over our onions. It was an ideal fit, but is now needed again at its true home! Thanks Mike and BioRich.

To replace the BioRich tractor we’ve picked up an older John Deere 2030. To fit the Apatu Farms standard bed we’ve been getting the wheels out to run on 2 m wide beds. That took a little work, but it’s now all go.

This project is a collaboration with Plant and Food Research for OnionsNZ with support from the MPI Sustainable Farming Fund.

Interoperability for Agriculture

Palmerston North, Friday 8th December 2017

From Landcare Research:

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

Presentations and workshops will cover

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

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

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

Australasian Precision Agriculture Symposium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Onions NZ Research Workshop

Improving the profitability of onions

Wednesday 10 May 2017 1:30pm to 5:00pm
Campbell Tyson Business Centre
Level 2, 1 Wesley Street
Pukekohe

Come along to hear and discuss results from the second seasons of the Onions NZ/MPI Sustainable Farming Fund project “Enhancing the profitability and value of NZ onions” presented by LandWISE Inc. and Plant and Food Research. You will also be able to contribute to the research plans for the next season of this project.

In addition, recent research conducted by Plant and Food Research on the impact of soils on soil borne diseases as well as work completed by the industry’s two PhD scholars will also be presented.

This Workshop is free to Onions NZ members but registration is essential.

Please register attendance by emailing James Kuperus with the names of who you are registering (if it is more than just yourself).

Click here for the programme

Report on Australian SPAA Expo 2017

Hugh Ritchie reports from the 2017 Expo

(C) SPAA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tree climbing robots in forestry

Richard Parker

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottle Lake Trial Robot

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

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.