As published in Grower Magazine, June 2009
“Read the . . . Manual!” delegates to the LandWISE ‘Confronting Climate Challenges’ Conference were told. Wade Riley was outlining requirements for success in setting up farm systems to gain the most from GPS in cropping. “Use a tape measure” was another point. What farmers are realising is just how ‘nominal’ many equipment sizes can be. Much cropping equipment is US sourced, and the old 30” row spacing is common. But that can be anywhere from 27” to 34” on a single machine! “Just because you paid for forty feet, doesn’t mean you got forty feet, and if the wrong implement width is entered in your GPS, well…” said Wade.
Some 140 people attended the LandWISE Conference in Havelock North in May. LandWISE’s James Powrie says they are very pleased with the turnout. “We had support from excellent presenters, great sponsors, and key growers and delegates,” he said.
Leading growers and industry support people attended the two day conference and field sessions. They came to hear about new developments in the use of advanced farming systems to improve profit and sustainability in vegetable growing, cropping, dairy farming and viticulture.
Speakers from UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and USA covered a range of topics across water, weed, traffic, data and nutrient management. Farming smarter with new technology reduces farm inputs and is rapidly changing the way crops are grown. Hugh Ritchie says, “The technologies are here and people are gaining from using them. So it bodes well for all sectors that so many people showed up to learn more about it”.
LandWISE has Sustainable Farming Fund funding for a three year project, investigating how tools such as GPS guidance, crop and soil sensors, and spatial software can help farmers reduce carbon emissions and mitigate adverse effects predicted under climate change. LandWISE’s Dan Bloomer explains that the project is very much a partnership. “We have a number of key project sponsors including the Foundation for Arable Research and the HortNZ Process Vegetable Product Group. Add to this Farmlands, New Zealand Fresh Cuts, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, Gisborne District Council and Ballance Agrinutrients and you can see the breadth of the interest from the cropping sector and industries. The regional councils can see how these technologies can help preserve soil resources and help farmers respond to climate change threats.”
James notes, “Taking ownership of [the system] is more than just buying the equipment. It requires planning to make GPS and other tools work to save fuel, labour, fertiliser, steel and other inputs”.
Speakers gave excellent practical advice and updates. Phil Dobson and John McPhee from Tasmania covered controlled traffic farming for vegetables both in New Zealand and Australia. They reminded the audience that the soil condition to best support tractor traffic (compacted ground) is least supportive for growing plants, which require loose, friable soil conditions. Controlled traffic ensures that we grow in the ‘gardens’ and create permanent ‘roads’ for tractors. When you save fuel in controlled traffic, other savings in steel, labour and capital investment, tend to follow along.
Water management is changing fast, and Ian Yule from the Centre for Precision Agriculture introduced EM38 electromagnetic sensing of soils and the link to water management to bring efficiency to irrigation. Stu Bradbury of Precision Irrigation explained systems for delivery of variable rate pivot irrigation so that correct water rates are applied. Application rates are based on computerised farm maps, variable with crop type and stage, soil composition and the ability to turn off nozzles as they pass over sheds, races and roads.
Increases in fertiliser costs reflect inputs of oil and energy and so the benefits of applying technology to improve application methods can bring gains in finance and for the environment. Hayden Lawrence of Spatial Solutions showed how sensing tools can be used to optimise nutrient management on-farm and Caine Thompson showed how sensing and mapping tools enable zonal harvest management in viticulture.
While farm input costs are climbing, the good news is, that the options and costs of technology to save on these inputs are improving rapidly. LandWISE is a good place to hear about it. “If you are not using [this technology] to take cost out of your business and make it more sustainable, what are you doing?” asks Chris Butler from NZ Fresh Cuts.
Gold Sponsors of the Conference were Leica Geosystems, WaterForce and Foundation for Arable Research.
LandWISE is a forum for sharing information on new technology for smarter farming and on-farm research. For more on LandWISE events and membership go to www.landwise.org.nz Register there for free newsletters on Advanced Farming and Precision Agriculture.