Precision Agriculture Project Update and LandWISE Conference 2010

As Published in ‘Grower’ Magazine April 2010.

James Powrie and Dan Bloomer, LandWISE Inc.

The Advanced Farming Systems Project was established to share learning related to Precision Agriculture. It is modern technology, rapidly entering the mainstream in cropping.

All twelve case study farmers in this LandWISE SFF project are using GPS and related technology for more profitable cropping. Their primary interest is using Precision Agriculture tools to guide and control machinery. Automatic steering to drive straight lines gives early benefits. Application control to improve material placement soon follows.

As farmers and advisors become more involved in precision farming, their interest in generating maps from automatically captured spatial data increases. Recording what happened where allows proof of placement maps, yield maps, or maps from crop and soil sensing.  Application maps that tell the equipment “how much to apply where” can follow.

Innovative farmers are reducing their inputs and improving yields, and they’re having some fun, challenges and a lot of learning along the way. In Hawke’s Bay, any cropping farmer of scale is using GPS.  Look around; GPS antennae can be seen on tractors almost anywhere in NZ.

Driving straight and controlling traffic with GPS
Driving straight gives the first tier of savings and efficiencies in fuel, time, inputs and R&M.  Several focus farmers have moved from Random Traffic Farming (RTF) to Controlled Traffic Farming (CTF).  Avoiding the soil damage and the costs imposed by remedial tillage is saving over 50% of fuel at NZ Fresh Cuts salad cropping farm in Pukekohe and at David Clark’s maize farm in Gisborne.  “Once we stop wasting energy in compaction, we don’t need to use more on remedial tillage.  With controlled traffic we save fuel on every pass and we do less passes,” says Chris Butler at NZ Fresh Cuts.

The soil responds well, once we stop driving randomly over paddocks.   Remember that 70-80% of compaction is done with the first pass and some cropping systems result in 100% compaction cover across a paddock.  Benefits noted in CTF systems include higher earthworm numbers, better water infiltration and storage and more resilience and faster recovery of soils in the face of catastrophic events.

Controlling Machinery for weeding
Hugh Ritchie and John Evans are both enjoying the benefits of RTK GPS for mechanical weeding. Straight planting lines can be revisited with <2cm accuracy.  “This is giving dramatic labour and agrichemical savings and reduced use of residual herbicides.  We justify it with economic reasons but gain environmental benefits as well,” says Hugh.

GPS planter and spray boom control
GPS technology can individual sprayer nozzles or planter coulters off or on at the optimum location saving misses or double ups. The controller tracks applications and references boundaries to turn on and off the relevant part of machine, saving seed or chemical and improving yields. This also provides a powerful tool for proof of product placement.

Surface Optimisation
On Hew Dalrymple’s farm, yield maps, EM soil maps and aerial photos all tell a story of variability. The sandy dune contour has tops that rapidly get too dry and hollows that pond and stay too wet. High precision GPS guided earthmoving is recontouring the sand dune country and evening out topsoil depth. It also allows his centre pivot irrigators to complete full circles or greater arcs, further enhancing production and return on investment.

Data Capture and Analysis
Yield maps, operational maps and remote sensing can give multiple layers of data to aid in managing a farm or crop.  Among the case studies are LandWISE farmers trialling crop and soil sensors to better understand their farms and manage their crops. To some it’s the icing on the cake: real time sensing and variable rate application.  For now, we just want to know what we can realistically achieve today (and tomorrow).

The LandWISE 2010 Conference
Precision Agriculture uptake is accelerating as technology costs fall and input costs rise.
Farmers can justify Precision Agriculture through immediate economic returns, but are very conscious of the environmental benefits which follow. They are the long term sustainability factors.

Using technology on your farm can save your “soil, oil and toil”. Register for the LandWISE conference on May 12th and 13th to learn from local farmers and local and overseas experts.

The LandWISE conference is being held in Havelock North.  It is the leading Precision Ag event in NZ each year and is a fun and interesting event.
Visit the LandWISE website for more information.

The LandWISE Conference is held in May each year.  This year’s theme is Know your Farm – With Precision Ag.  12th & 13th May, Havelock North.  See our website to learn more, or call to register.
The LandWISE website 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.
Visit the website to learn more, or contact James direct on 06 6504531 or 0272 757757.

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