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The Value of Smart Farming

Layden

One hundred and fifty farmers, technology developers, service providers and researchers joined us at our 14th Annual Conference in May 2016.

The presentation summaries are available on-line here>

Delegates left LandWISE 2016 with new understanding of how new digital technologies might help us, where current development is opening possibilities and which are offering on-farm value now and in the future.

Delegate feedback was extremely positive.

  • “We’ll be back next year with a carload of colleagues!”
  • “I’ve never been to a conference where the was so much interest and excitement! People went back in on time, sat on the edge of the chairs paying attention then talked nonstop all lunchtime”

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The Mechanical Farm of 2030

LandWISE 2015 Presenter, Dan Bloomer

 

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Dan is the Manager of LandWISE Inc, an independent consultant, and a member of the Precision Agriculture Association of New Zealand Executive.

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.

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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.

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The NIAE Gantry image from John Matthews paper
The ASALift Gantry tractor in 2013
The ASALift Gantry tractor in 2013

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.

The NIAE robotic harvester image from Matthews' paper
The NIAE robotic harvester image from Matthews’ paper

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.

MatthewsComputer
The NIAE image of a farm computer appears to have a rack for storage disks, but also shows a microphone and aerial perhaps for wireless communications.

Maybe the design (how) is different to now, but much of the what of John Matthews’ predictions suggests he deserves a high score.

 

Farm of 2030 – Technical Session

Friday 22 May 2015 (By Application)

A forum for lead farmers and technologists

Intention:   Scoping research and farm technology needs

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Programme:

  • 60 second introductions (all)
  • Defining future farm problems and challenges
  • Lead presentations
  • Discussion of key issues

We have a great gathering of presenters and delegates at LandWISE 2015. We are taking the opportunity to enable a deeper discussion of key issues, and providing a forum to make new contacts and enhance networking.

There are limited places at this event for which applications are invited.

More>

MicroFarm Open Day 3-5pm 2 April 2014

Ballance web150  BASF web  CLAW-light-150

The second MicroFarm Open Day date will focus on beans, sweetcorn and water management.

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Bean planting – Richard Airey picture

The green beans are destined for McCain Foods Hastings plant. The four micropaddocks include demonstrations of:

  • Two row spacings 20″ and 15″
  • Four plant populations
  • Different varieties
  • Drip vs spray irrigation
  • Phosphorus: non vs normal vs double rate
  • Herbicide management variations

Sweetcorn demonstrations

  • Strip-till
  • No irrigation
  • Drip irrigation
  • Very late spray irrigation

Irrigation discussion

  • Soil monitoring records from 2013-2014 crops
  • Where crops are getting water from
  • Impact of drought stress
  • Cost of drought stress

More details on the MicroFarm website

Many thanks to:

Ballance AgriNutrients, BASF Crop Protection, Centre for Land and Water, ThinkWater, Netafim, HydroServices, McCain Foods, FruitFed Supplies, Agronica NZ, Nicolle Contracting, Te Mata Contractors, Drumpeel Farms, Agnew Hort, Greville Ground Spraying, True Earth Organics, Tasman Harvesting, Plant & Food Research and Peracto Research for support with this work.

2014 LandWISE Conference

Ever Better: Farmers, land and water

21 – 22 May 2014
Awapuni Function Centre, Palmerston North

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Many thanks to our Platinum Sponsors, BASF Crop Protection and John Deere who actively put their support behind the conference. This extends the support they have already given LandWISE for previous events and our MicroFarm initiative.

Our Gold Sponsors are Horizons Regional Council, Potatoes New Zealand/Process Vegetables New Zealand and Trimble Ag specialists, GPS Control Systems. They are also long term and positive LandWISE supporters.

And thanks to our many returning sponsors for ongoing support, and to the new sponsors who also see benefit in the work LandWISE does.

Conference Programme

A draft programme outline is available here>

The theme reflects the increasing demands on farmers to demonstrate effective stewardship of the land and water resource that underpins their businesses. We have a guided tour of an intensively cropped catchment where farmers are working to achieve water quality that meets community expectations and values.

Having our Conference in a different region acts on our mission to promote sustainable farming and smart technologies to as wide an audience as possible. We previously held the conference in Palmerston North and Gisborne with good attendances and we expect a good response in 2014.

Other prospective Sponsors and Trade Displays can contact us anytime at info@landwise.org.nz

We want a big turnout at LandWISE 2014. We encourage you to use your communication channels to ensure as many interested people as possible know, value, register and attend. We look forward to your support.

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Wairakaia Station is Supreme

Congratulations LandWISE Members Bruce and Jo Graham. Together with Rob and Sandra Faulkner, they have been named Supreme winners of the 2014 East Coast Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

There is a Ballance Farm Environment Awards Field Day at Wairakaia on Thursday 27th March 2014 for those keen to see the farm and hear what the families have been doing.

More information on the Ballance AgriNutrients website>

BFEA -Faulkner and GrahamBallance AgriNutrients photo

The Faulkners and the Grahams run a 600ha family farm ‘Wairakaia’ at Muriwai south of Gisborne.  At a special Ballance Farm Environment Awards (BFEA) ceremony on February 20, Wairakaia also collected the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Farm Award, the Hill Laboratories Harvest Award, the Massey University Innovation Award and The East Coast Farming For The Future Award.

Bruce was part of LandWISE project work looking into strip tillage and precision agriculture techniques. He started his GPS journey with the purchase of a lightbar for spraying in 2006. In 2009 he purchased Trimble RTK and EZI steer, allowing him to drive hands-free and focus on the implements and results behing the tractor. Wairakaia hosted LandWISE field days to help extend knowledge of these practices.

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Autumn Open Day

The LandWISE MicroFarm is preparing for its second Open Day to be held at 3 pm on 2 April 2014. The two crops for discussion are sweet corn and green beans.

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Green beans are a relatively new crop here, and questions over best management remain. The MicroFarm Discussion Group selected a few options this season.  Some may require following up with more investigations.

Plant arrangement and population are two key questions. Herbicide and fertiliser options are also being considered.

Tasman Harvesters Director, Gary Cutts returned from a trip to Europe where he saw most green beans are planted on 15” or 381mm rows. Gary was very keen to try the narrower row spacing. He has noticed smaller canopy crops that do not fully fill the allocated row space are difficult to harvest well.

This season we have planted one MicroFarm paddock at 15” or 381mm spacing, increasing the in-row spacing to keep the population near the norm.  At half the usual spacing for crops such as process sweetcorn or maize, fitting tyres into the mix is a challenge.

McCain Foods Field Officer, Ben Watson was interested to know what plant population might be optimal. He set up four rates from 300,000 to 370,000 plants per hectare.

Ballance AgriNutrients’ Mark Redshaw has used double rate phosphorous in one half and no phosphorous in the other. Other nutrients are the same, rates determined following soil testing at Hill Laboratories.

Scott Marillier and Vaughan Redshaw at Fruitfed Supplies selected a standard herbicide programme for most of the area. Haydn Greville applied 600mL/ha BASF Frontier and 500mL/ha Magister as a pre-emergent spray. This was followed by 3L/ha BASF Bentazone at two trifoliates.

By the end of February the buried drip had applied four 10mm irrigations. That was enough to keep just above stress point.

HydroServices’ soil moisture monitoring showed the un-irrigated paddocks were stressed from early on. Funding constraints have prevented us getting the dream irrigation system so we started using our mini-gun, applying 20-35mm at the end of February.  While adequate on pasture, it is not ideal for crops.

Many
thanks to Thanks to: Centre for Land and Water, ThinkWater, Netafim, HydroServices, McCain Foods, Ballance AgriNutrients, BASF Crop Protection, FruitFed Supplies, Agronica NZ, Nicolle Contracting, Te Mata Contractors, Drumpeel Farms, Greville Ground Spraying, True Earth Organics, Tasman Harvesting Plant & Food and Peracto for support with this work.

A wide span tractor designed for vegetable production

Hans Henrik Pedersen is completing a PhD at Aarhus University in Denmark. He was a key speaker at LandWISE 2013: “New Ideas”. Hans told delegates about his work investigating a wide-span tractor as an option for cropping farmers.

Vegetable farmers, who adopt CTF, face serious challenges at harvest because very few harvesters are designed to match CTF systems. The soil structure is severely damaged when heavy harvest machines run over the well structured growing beds. A few farmers have modified harvesters, but to our knowledge only one CTF vegetable farmer has succeeded in matching harvest machines for all his crops.

As CTF farmers are still a minority the limited demand means that machinery manufacturers do not yet perceive a need. Also 3 m track width, as used by most CTF vegetable farmers, is a challenge as mass produced harvest machines need to meet road regulations in different countries.

In a Danish project partly funded by the Danish Business Innovation Fund a 9.6 m prototype wide span tractor has been developed. It will be tested by a commercial farmer (Jens Kjeldahl, Samsø) who will grow onions on 9.6 m wide beds spanned by the tractor. ASA-Lift A/S has designed and built the wide span tractor. Besides cultivation, drilling and plant care operations, the tractor will be used as a bunker harvester for onions and possibly for other crops. At harvest, the machine will unload at the field edges, thereby avoiding tractors and trailers in the field.

ASALiftGantry First presentation of the ASA-Lift WS-9600 tractor, summer 2012. Photo: Brdr. Kjeldahl

A wide span tractor solves two main challenges facing the traditional tractor:

  • Restrictions in width (e.g. due to road regulations) are solved by changing the direction of travel between field work and road transport. The machine is wide in the field and long when transported on roads but only 2.55 m wide.
  • Weight of the tractor can be reduced as implements can be mounted within the span of the tractor. The forces from the implements are transferred directly to the tractor as opposed to traditional mounting systems, where the tractor needs weight to pull the implement. Also, in conventional implement designs, a strong, heavy and often complex structure is needed to transfer the forces through the tractor hitch, as well as to fold the implement for transport.

Earlier work on wide span tractor designs e.g. as described by Chamen et al. (1994), unfortunately did not lead to commercial production.

A key point in design of any technology is to ensure that the development process is targeted to the priorities of potential customers. As part of my PhD. Studies I have performed a Quality Function Deployment (QFD) to derive user-requirements and design parameters.

Twenty eight farmers and farm managers in Europe and Australia have been interviewed about their priorities for the design of a new growing concept based on wide span machines. The majority of those interviewed were CTF farmers. The farmers were asked to score 28 specific requirements on a scale from 0 to 4.

The 10 requirements with the highest priority were: (average scores are given in parentheses)

  • Automatic accurate steering of the carrier (3.9)
  • Reducing soil compaction (3.8)
  • Durability of the machine (3.4)
  • Overview of the entire machine from the operator’s seat (3.4)
  • Total costs per hour (3.3)
  • Clear view and manoeuvrability to avoid damage (3.3)
  • Semi-automatic control for increased productivity and ease of operation for the driver (3.3)
  • Comfort of the driver (3.3)
  • Automatic accurate steering of mounted implements (3.3)
  • Capability to carry heavy loads in the field (3.2)

A next step involved technical experts suggesting technical solutions (Design Parameters) to accommodate the priorities set by the farmers. The results of this QFD analysis can be used by any manufacturer who wishes to develop wide span machines.

Tractors as we know them today were very successful in replacing horses. Since they were introduced in the 1920s, rubber tyres and four-wheel drive have been established, along with other features, but basically the design has not changed. However, the power output has increased more than 10 fold and the weight of tractors has increased by a similar factor. The load of agricultural machines is challenging the productivity of soils. We believe it is time for a change to the traditional tractor and that the wide span alternative can be designed to suit the needs of modern agriculture while significantly improving production efficiency.

Reference:  Chamen, W. C. T., Dowler, D., Leede, P. R., and Longstaff, D. J. (1994). Design, Operation and Performance of a Gantry System: Experience in Arable Cropping. Journal of Agricultural Engineering Research 59, 45-60.

Look also at the CTF-Europe website for more from Hans Pedersen, Tim Chamen and colleagues

 

 

Farm equipment 2020

This article was first published in “The Grower”, following a request for some thoughts on where cropping equipment is heading.

Farm Equipment 2020

An easy way to look stupid is to publish a prediction.

For example:

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.”—Western Union, 1876

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Ken Olson, 1977.

“Everyone’s always asking me when Apple will come out with a cell phone. My answer is, ‘Probably never.'”—David Pogue, 2006

“Technology Forecasting” seeks to identify technology trends and adoption rates. By tracking research papers, patent applications and early prototypes, an idea of when a new technology will appear, be first and broadly adopted, and its ultimate “market penetration” can be deduced. But it is notoriously difficult.

Looking at farm equipment, some directions are evident. But I’m very, very unsure about the time frames for broad adoption. And there are things just over the horizon that will be game changing. And of which we are absolutely ignorant.

Different folk adopt different things at different rates. Of the three base resources; land (and water), labour and capital, which are most limiting to your business? Your priorities for new ways and equipment will often see available capital move to make the use of your most limiting resources more efficient.

A reasonable assumption is that there will be fewer people producing more, higher-quality produce more reliably. They will use equipment that doesn’t look that different, but is much, much smarter. A planter will still look like a planter, but its control and recording will be vastly different.

Most changes will be to produce more from less – no change there in hundreds of years. But to produce more while minimising our environmental footprint is a newer spin. It will take us until 2020 to fully respond to regulatory changes.

Ten predictions:

1. Embedded information technologies will have a massive impact across all aspects of cropping.  That is an easy call; they already are with satellite guidance, machine control, data capture, smartphones and improving rural broadband access.

2. Almost all equipment will be delivered with smart technology on-board, though not enabled until a licence fee is paid. Infotech is becoming rapidly cheaper and better. The physical bits are relatively inexpensive to produce, but the IP can be costly.

3. Data capture and analysis will be more powerful yet simpler. Automated routines will capture and turn data into farmer friendly information for decision making and compliance reporting.

4. All farm “devices” will be linked, geo-located and synchronised: your phone, tractor, sprayer, office, car, cool room and irrigator. Vehicles will routinely gather crop information as they pass, feeding it wirelessly to the farm office for analysis.

5. We will not see variable rate application based on sensor data as a one-pass operation.  There are too many factors that influence the farm decision and it will be a while before all the considerations can be integrated automatically. Never say never?

6. Irrigation will be more efficient and smarter, using soil moisture data from sensor networks, and better integrated weather forecast information. Systems will deliver more accurate depths more evenly. The drivers are limited water supply and need to reduce nutrient leakage.

7. Variable rate system adoption will continue to increase and fertigation will be more widely used, especially in “fully nutrient allocated” areas. It offers tighter control and reduces the severity of any leaching.

8. Controlled traffic systems incorporating no-till, strip-till or permanent beds will be widespread, giving numerous benefits and very few downsides.   Guidance is already “mature technology” on cropping farms. Seven years is long enough for a lot of equipment to be replaced as a matter of course. Selecting options that match standard bout widths is relatively simple; then common AB lines give CTF by default.

9. Driverless tractor units for harvest trailers/chaser bins will be supervised by harvester drivers. If cars can already drive safely on public roads . . .

10. Robotic sprayers and mowers will be used in orchards and vineyards but will not be common in field cropping.

 

Innovation on the Family Farm

The article first appeared in The GROWER magazine in 2012.

Innovation on the family farm.

Farmers continually adapt to changes in farming conditions and local or global circumstances. This is innovation at work. These innovations are rarely documented but they could be of major benefit to other farmers.

Sometimes farmers want to keep their innovative ideas to themselves, seeking a competitive edge. But this is not always true, and many farmers do willingly share their ideas. They value the critique of others as an important part of on-going improvement.

A recent UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report1 concludes that farmer innovations should be documented.  The report also encourages closer links between farmers and formal scientific research to allow independent farmer innovations to be validated, and the scientific community to learn from and build on those innovations. This concept is hardly new, but it is relatively rare in practice.

The FAO report also notes farmers need to be organised for collective action, and that access to market opportunities is critical for innovation. It says that resource-poor farmers wish to minimise risk, and this has a major impact on their adoption of innovative practices.

The report comes from an e‑mail conference asking whether family farmers can fully participate in, and benefit from, agricultural innovation systems (AIS) and what policy-makers can do to help. The focus was on family farms in developing nations, but also seems relevant here.

Innovation systems are collaborative. They involve many stakeholders working together, sharing their knowledge to develop and apply new ideas. In contrast, the traditional linear approach assumes knowledge is developed by researchers and fed out to farmers2.

Collaborative research with farmers, industry and scientists was the foundation of LandWISE and has remained central to our most successful activities. A side benefit is that this develops ability for continual innovation.

Innovation systems are “messy”, with many partners with differing roles and views. To make them work better, the FAO report identifies a key role for innovation brokers, described as the “lubricants of the innovation engine”. This role is similar to that formerly played by MAF farm advisors, transferring knowledge both ways between MAF Tech researchers and the farmers.

Unlike the dairy and fruit sectors, vegetable cropping has few innovation brokers and lacks the clearly defined extension role that would support them. Individual projects involve engagement of farmers with scientists and others. But continuity is lacking in the relationships that support shared learning and foster innovation excellence.

Perhaps new information and communication technologies offer farmers opportunities to fully participate in shared learning. Mobile phone and web technologies have their challenges but can be used to bring farmers closer to markets, link farmers to each other and to extension agents, give farmers improved access to technical knowledge and document farmer innovations.

How can we use new technologies and collaborative learning to help growers minimise risk, or overcome the perception of risk, to free them up to innovate?

PS

The FAO report is interesting for a number of reasons – not least being that it is from an e-mail conference.

560 people from 50 different countries shared 242 email messages over a period of four weeks. It was cheap – virtually free to attend.

Nobody had to travel and nobody had to miss a session because they had another pressing engagement. Everyone had time to think about a posting and craft a considered reply.

Maybe we could use that approach here.

References:

  1. “A FAO e‑mail conference on agricultural innovation systems and family farming: The moderator’s summary.” http://www.fao.org/docrep/016/ap097e/ap097e00.pdf
  2. “Agricultural Innovation Systems – A guide” via http://www.slideshare.net/LINKInnovationStudies/agricultural-innovation-systems-an-introduction

Dan Bloomer, LandWISE