As published in Grower June 2010.
James Powrie and Dan Bloomer, LandWISE Inc.
“The life-cycle, right through to the end consumer, matters a lot if we are to capture value and climb out of the commodity trap”, says James Palmer, MAF Policy’s Director of Strategy Development. In his opening address at the LandWISE Conference, Palmer highlighted the challenges faced by agriculture in New Zealand. He noted that Precision Agriculture can help farmers to grow the natural capital and markets on which our economy depends.
Held in Havelock North, with a high tech field session at the Centre for Land and Water in Hastings, the conference attracted 130 delegates. Farmers, researchers and industry people congregated to learn more about the benefits of advanced farming systems for vegetable, arable and pasture crops.
New technologies such as GPS, crop sensors, imaging and communications are driving farming forward in Australia, reported Professor David Lamb from the University of New England, NSW. Lamb, Leader of the Precision Ag Research Group described new applications in cropping, pastoral systems and viticulture and the use of crop sensors, satellite imaging and livestock tracking. On the LandWISE Conference itself, he said, “This has been the most enjoyable event I have attended in many years.”
Fellow Australians, Dr Eileen Perry and Dr Roger Mandel spoke about the physics of crop sensing, how Australian growers are making technology pay and also, perhaps most importantly, how to avoid its pitfalls. “Check very carefully what support you will be getting – I’d sooner have the next best technology with the best support,” said Mandel. “If you can’t get support when and where you need it, you’ll have a very expensive tool doing absolutely nothing,” he said.
LandWISE Manager, Dan Bloomer notes, “Australia has invested heavily in Precision Agriculture – probably owing to the very marginal nature of some of their farming, and their need to target inputs accurately and take special care of their soils and water.” New Zealand growers are taking on Precision Ag as their profitability is challenged and environmental performance is becoming a key success factor. “Cost saving technologies like GPS, auto steering and high tech spraying and planting gear are getting cheaper while the other input costs are all going up. Farmers are catching on fast, and once in, they wonder how they ever did without it,” he adds.
Fuel savings from 25-55% are being made in Controlled Traffic Farming operations. LandWISE is monitoring progress on farms producing onions, spinach and lettuce and maize cropping. Plant and Food scientist, Paul Johnstone, and AS Wilcox Crop Supervisor Simon Wilcox told delegates about trials of permanent beds for onions and potatoes. After only one crop, measureable soil improvements and fuel savings are seen. AS Wilcox will greatly increase the area of Controlled Traffic Farming this year.
Reddy Pullanagari is a doctorate student at the NZ Centre for Precision Agriculture at Massey. He has begun work with NZ Fresh Cuts Operations Manager Chris Butler, who spoke about CTF in salad cropping and crop sensing for nutritional management.
“Conferences are great, but we need more of this closer extension happening throughout agriculture,” says Bloomer. “LandWISE works hard to improve communication between farmers, scientists and academics. We believe strongly in cooperative research efforts and excellent communication between farmers and researchers,” said Bloomer. “And it seems to work well.”
Three scholarships enabled students to attend the Conference. Apatu Farms sponsored a leading Ag/Hort student from Lindisfarne college in Hastings. LandWISE matched this to allow Sam Tod and Rowan Sandford to attend the conference free of charge.
Anna Gillum, an honours student from Massey University, also attended the conference on a scholarship from LandWISE, “It has confirmed for me that I have chosen the right industry. It was nice to realise that my last 3 years of study, and this post grad year, will benefit me as well as give me an enjoyable future in this industry.” she said.
AGMARDT provided travel assistance to the conference from Australia for Professor David Lamb, Dr Eileen Perry and Dr Roger Mandel.
Horticulture NZ Fresh and Process Vegetable Product Groups and Potatoes New Zealand were Gold sponsors of the LandWISE Conference. They were in good company, with Waterforce, CASE IH, Trimble, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, EECA, Foundation for Arable Research also leading sponsors of the event.
The LandWISE website www.landwise.org.nz contains information on current members, articles on precision agriculture and many resources and tools. It is also a place to comment, chat and ask questions about where to go to learn more.
LandWISE membership puts you in touch with other innovative growers, industry folks and technologists, join at http://www.landwise.org.nz/join/
Visit the website to learn more, or contact James direct on 06 6504531 or 0272 757757.