LandWISE 2011 Conference on farmer’s successes with technology

As published in Grower June 2011

Dan Bloomer and James Powrie – LandWISE Inc.

“Agriculture is the business to be in,” Hew Dalrymple told 115 delegates at the 9th LandWISE conference in Havelock North. Hew painted an exciting picture of high global demand for food and outlined some of the technologies he is adopting to be a better producer.

Chinese food consumption growth and diminishing area of agricultural land (8.33 million ha lost in the last 12 years) are just two drivers he presented.  Hew quoted David Stroud, chief executive officer of New York-based hedge fund TS Capital Partners: “China’s increased demand for agricultural commodities will mean an increase in prices for the entire world market. China can outlast any other bidders for the commodities it desires.”

One example: China, the world’s biggest grain producer, was a net exporter of soybeans until 1995.  This year, it’s forecast to import 57 million tons, or almost 60 percent of global trade in the oilseed used in animal-feed and tofu. Hew says this is setting the scene for NZ farmers to gain from exports.

Four AGMARDT sponsored experts from Australia addressed the conference. Professor David Lamb showed Precision Ag has moved steadily forward in Australia. He spoke on precision pastures and livestock, and the ways researchers are interpreting tracked animal behaviour to better manage farm systems.

David also described recent work with plane mounted crop sensors, capturing crop information from 150 feet, and how smart engineering is trying to use on board sensors to adjust aerial application rates in real time.

“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!” Steven Raine, Professor of Irrigation from Southern Queensland, opened the irrigation and drainage session with a review of precision irrigation. He pointed out that you can precisely apply irrigation to a whole paddock as one block. He challenged farmers to look at real returns from investment, rather than adding to a stable of toys.

Steven showed how really smart irrigation systems not only manage application, but measure, monitor and determine needs automatically with little input from farmers. This needs a high level of knowledge of soils, weather and crops, computer modelling and process controls. But your system must be working correctly in the first place, before expensive smart technologies will add value.

The how-to of successful Precision Agriculture was covered by Tim Neale and Andrew Whitlock from Australia.  They covered farm software, precision drainage design and controlled traffic farming with Australian examples and comments on NZ practices as they had seen in their travels prior to conference.  They were impressed by the New Zealand farmers they met. “We don’t know anyone in the world who has gone as far as you, with precision ag in potatoes and onions,” they told AS Wilcox delegates.

Simon Wilcox spoke about their experience starting with the LandWISE Controlled Traffic trial at Pukekawa.  GPS guidance has given them savings from the paddock to logistics, and in the processing plant, with better structured soil staying in the paddock instead of riding in the truck to the factory. “The washing plant loves it,” said Simon.

Emma McCracken described how she and husband Peter have paced their investment in technology at Wai-Iti Fresh in Canterbury.  They are new adopters, with RTK-GPS, new irrigation types and other technology being adopted in the past two years.  Emma described their plans to build on this base, and use such tools to address their challenges with soil quality, water use, drainage and crop yield.

Sjaak Wolfert leads a European Union research program to enhance the use of on farm data. Based at Wageningen in Holland, he described the challenges of data compatibility between brands.  The same difficulties we find in New Zealand are faced globally by farmers. Sjaak invited aligned efforts and assistance from LandWISE in spelling out farmers’ requirements of the technology industry.

Massey University has formed a joint Centre for Precision Agriculture with Lincoln University. Professor Ian Yule outlined where this fits with the advancement of Precision Agriculture in New Zealand. He spoke about paths to managing your farm at the highest practical resolution. Using sensors and fertiliser as examples, he explained the goals and difficulties of managing variability in time and space as crops develop.

Plant and Food research Scientists Bruce Searle and Steven Trolove brought zonal management of nutrients into perspective, relating soil measurements to crop wants, and translating complex nutrient mapping into farmer application decisions.

It was exciting to see how success with technology is becoming the norm across a range of sectors and to hear farmer’s plans for more.

And it’s not just for the big farms. Brothers Travis and Nigel, and father Gordon Sue, grow fresh vegetables on 70 ha of land in Levin. Travis explained the successes his family has had with auto-steer precision; cutting costs and making better use of their land.  He explained how they plan to make their site more productive by managing traffic better. “We should have had it [RTK-GPS] years ago,” says Gordon.

The conference was generously supported with the platinum sponsor being CASE IH NZ Ltd.  AGMARDT provided funding for Professors Steven Raine and David Lamb and Andrew Whitlock and Tim Neale to present at the conference also. For more detail on the conference and coming LandWISE events visit our website

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