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:
Research outcomes for soil management and environmental issues
Cultivation techniques long term trial Northern Crop research site
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Route planning to avoid hazards and known obstacles
Laser range finder to sense objects and define them as obstacles
Wide area safety curtain sensing ground objects at 2m
Dead man’s handle possibly via smartphone
Collapsible bumper as a physical soft barrier that activates Stop
Big Red Buttons anyone close can see and use to stop the machine
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.
This winter saw a repeat of last year’s split planting of Caliente Mustard and Oats to compare effects on soil, disease and plant growth. Seed was provided by True Earth Organics.
To gain benefit from the fumigant properties of the Caliente, it must be soil incorporated as soon as possible. This is why we have the two tractors closely following, one mulching the crop, the other incorporating the residues.
Onions are to be planted in this area for a third season in succession. Our onion crop will also include a new area that has never had onions planted before. As part of our collaboration with Onions New Zealand and Plant and Food Research, we will compare the performance of crops in the different areas.
This winter we have established both Caliente Mustard and Oats in paddocks 1 and 2, the site of our last two years of summer onions.
The ground had not had onions before 2014-2015 as far as we know. We grew our second crop in succession in 2015-2016.
Our plan is to grow onions for a third year, and to pay attention to the development of weeds, pests and diseases. Plant and Food Research reported some evidence of “Pink Root” in a few plants while harvesting samples of the 2015-2016 crop.
After harvest, Gerry and John Steenkamer ripped the beds, leaving the wheel tracks. This is step 1 of a route into permanent bed cropping at the MicroFarm.
Unfortunately, the alignment of the main AB line for the entire block did not match the buried drip irrigation installed some years ago, and it has been damaged beyond repair.
After ripping, Mike Kettle Contracting power harrowed the paddocks to about 100mm to reduce the rubbley surface. The Caliente and Oats were drilled by Kettle Contracting on 16 March.
We chose a split-paddock planting, with Caliente on the northern side and oats on the south. This repeats last winter’s pattern, so we will have two years of onions followed by either Caliente or Oats when we establish the 2016-2017 crop.
Many thanks to True Earth Organics for supplying the Caliente seed, and to G & J Steenkamer and Mike Kettle for groundwork and drilling.
Dr Jane Adams, OnionsNZ Research and Innovation Manager, says the project, “Enhancing the profitability and value of New Zealand onions” is designed to provide the industry with tools to monitor and manage low yields and variability in onion yield and bulb quality.
It will incorporate precision agriculture with initial work to be done at the LandWISE MicroFarm. At the MicroFarm, we have been building increasing knowledge of the site, but will ramp that up with more layers of soil and crop information as we try to unpick factors contributing to lower yields and reduced quality.
Information about the 2014-2015 MicroFarm Onion crop can be found on the MicroFarm website.
The project proper starts on 1 July, but there has a lot of preparatory activity to ensure everything kicks of smoothly.
Anyone interested in joining a regional Focus Group supporting the project should contact us>
In 1981, John Matthews of the UK National Institute for Agricultural Engineering described what a farm would look like in 2030; a fifty year horizon.
“The mechanical farm of 2030” identified four factors that would influence the farm of 2030; social factors including employment, preservation of the environment, animal welfare and primary energy sources.
Soil quality and alternative machinery were high on their list. Computers and robotics were available but GPS, internet and wireless were not.
In 2015, with all the benefits of knowing what happened in the last 35 years, we revisited the question to ask, “What will a cropping farm look like in 2030?” Were John Matthew’s predictions of technology on-track? And importantly, what must farmers do to ready themselves for next year, five years and fifteen years down the track?
The general consensus was a resounding round of applause for John Matthews. The issues he identified continue to be key drivers today. The technological developments he envisioned are progressing towards the 2030 deadline with examples of commercially developed gantries now being tested on farms in Europe.
John Matthews article included a robotic harvester. We know the computing and actuation required for that is still tricky, but it seems quite probable robotic harvesting will be feasible and possible it will be relatively common by 2030.
Perhaps his control tower windows are more likely to be computer monitors, and he didn’t know about smart phones, but his vision of the role computing would play is remarkably close – though perhaps thanks to Moore’s law and compounding development we have already got further than he estimated.
Maybe the design (how) is different to now, but much of the what of John Matthews’ predictions suggests he deserves a high score.
Robert Fitch and Salah Sukkarieh
Australian Centre for Field Robotics
School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering
The University of Sydney, NSW Australia
Food production in the 21st century must respond to significant new pressures to increase quantity and nutritional quality. Because natural resources are limited, achieving such goals must involve improvements in production efficiency. At the same time, we must engage in environmental stewardship, contend with the rising cost and diminishing availability of human labour, and reverse the steady decline in the number of farmers worldwide.
Meeting these challenges will require major innovations in technology, farming systems, and operations enabled by advances in robotics and automation.
One of the leaders in agricultural robotics research is the Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) at The University of Sydney, recognised as one of the largest field robotics groups in the world. We conduct research using both ground and aerial robots that is helping to shape the future of farms.
Our collaboration with Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and start-up company SwarmFarm addresses the issue of soil structure damage from ever-larger tractors and implements by replacing a single large soil-compacting vehicle with many small vehicles that move lightly across the surface without compacting the soil or disturbing its protective top layer.
The potential for robot teams is also strong in integrated weed management strategies. The Ladybird is a prototype we designed and fabricated for the vegetable industry, supported by AusVeg. Beneath the outer shell is a manipulator arm that can be used to position a variety of implements for weed control, such as tines, microwave, grit-blasting, and steerable targeted spray.
The problem of detecting individual weeds is one part of our general framework for crop intelligence, where robots perform autonomous farm surveillance (mapping, classification, detection) for crop growth and health.
The farm of the future will not simply replace manual operation with autonomous operation, but instead will adopt a systems view that coordinates all activities and draws more people into farming.
Whole-farm optimisation can be seen as ‘thinking beyond the robot’ to restructure farm operations in terms of the timing and logistics of all activities, where individual crop elements have a ‘personality’ that is accurately tracked over the crop lifecycle.
The ACFR has a long history of working in large-scale operations and optimisation with various industry partners and are now beginning to apply the resulting successful methodologies to the agriculture domain.
The Oekosem Strip Tiller is a Swiss product manufactured by Baertschi. Nick Gillot says it’s all about creating an optimal seedbed in rows, minimizing soil erosion and operating costs and simultaneously securing earnings over the long term.
Nick says the metering unit is a major component of the Monosem planter. With the new NG Plus 4 model, Monosem has conserved the the best of the NG Plus units and has added the operating comfort. Nick says adjustments are made easier so the planter can be perfectly adjusted to conditions to get optimal planting.
The machine was operating at the LandWISE MicroFarm Field Session on Day 2 of the Conference. The area put aside for the demonstration was in long term grass that had not been sprayed out – it was a good test.
On Day 1, presenters discussed sensing, control and robotics. Developments in this area are proceeding remarkably fast, with prototype machines finding their own way around farms, identifying weeds by species and applying custom treatments including sprays only to leaves. Additional presentations on pasture and plant quality detection, grapevine pruning and fruit quality analysis made it a full informative day.
At the end of the day, delegates formed small teams to design their dream agricultural robots – an excellent way to consolidate information. The key however, was identifying what their robots should do (not how) and describing the constraints under which it would need to operate.
As soon as you state a “how” you limit the options that can be considered in determining the final design. Maybe it shouldn’t be a 4-wheeled rover, but an aerial vehicle, or even a ground crawler. Get the specifications right, and the design will identify itself.
Day 2 began with discussions around variability. Identifying what variability exists, where it is and whether it justifies custom management is a critical starting place. Speakers also focused on managing two important farm inputs to ensure the right job is done – seed placement and fertiliser application.
Day 2 was completed at the LandWISE MicroFarm at the Centre for Land and Water. There were demonstrations of in-field nitrogen testing, a soil pit to examine, a robot pulling a urine patch detector, a one pass strip-till and planting machine, testing fertiliser spreaders and UAVs.
Something for every forward thinking agriculturist!