This article first appeared in The GROWER magazine in December 2011
Dan Bloomer, LandWISE
A Guide to Smart Farming
“New Zealand has a unique ability to supply quality produce to a rapidly increasing global market,” says Hew Dalrymple. “But to do so sustainably requires new approaches to farming and new skills for those on the land.”
A book published in December contains a wealth of information that will help. A Guide to Smart Farming has case studies of farmers using new technologies, and expert articles explaining how the technologies work.
The book encapsulates learning which is the result of many years’ collaboration, especially between LandWISE, the Foundation for Arable Research, Horticulture New Zealand, and Plant & Food Research. At its core are Sustainable Farming fund projects, Advanced Cropping Systems and Holding it Together.
Advanced Cropping Systems
Advanced Cropping Systems followed twelve farmers assessing precision farming technology. Perhaps not surprisingly, the focus for some shifted in the three years of the project.
FAR’s Tracey Wylie worked with Tim Macfarlane mapping weed infestations with a canopy sensor. Their weed map did not correlate very well with the weed problem, but a soil map did. As Tracey and Tim say, “We need to take all the information we have into account, we can’t assume a single tool will tell us what we want to know.”
Travis and Nigel Sue fitted RTK-GPS and autosteer for their fresh vegetable operation. Now the rows are dead straight and perfectly spaced every time. They have labour and input savings, and no land is wasted. “We should have had it years ago,” they say.
A half-paddock trial of permanent beds for onions, potatoes and cereals at A.S Wilcox and Sons controlled traffic on the paddock and saved soil, oil and toil. Already expanded to 40ha, they are now focused on rolling the new system out across the business.
Hugh Ritchie wants easy data transfer between GPS devices and computer programmes to avoid double and triple data entry, avoid errors, and increase efficiency. Unfortunately a solution does not look imminent! Sjaak Wolfert is leading a major EU project on this topic. “This is a global problem. There is no single standard for data exchange in agriculture, and manufacturers are slow to use those that are available,” Sjaak says.
In partnership with Keith Nicoll, Hugh has made major advances with precision drainage installing plastic pipe with a gravel envelope. The equipment maps the paddock using RTK-GPS, calculates the drain gradients, and controls the laying machinery automatically, removing costs from the operation.
Holding it Together
Holding it Together focused on retaining soil and soil quality. Plant & Food scientist Paul Johnstone led the Fresh Vegetable Product Group, Potatoes New Zealand, LandWISE project. “There are many practical things we can do to look after this key resource,” he says.
Scott Lawson is one of several crop farmers using furrow dyking in their wheel tracks. “It is normal practice for us now,” he says. “We were getting crop loss after rain or irrigation when water ran along wheel tracks and drowned out crop. The furrow dyker keeps the water where it lands while it soaks in.”
Antonia Glaria worked with Paul on a range of cover crop options for fresh vegetable growers. They found maize could recapture lost nutrients including nitrogen. “We’ve studied maize in a number of situations,” says Paul. “It is a very deep rooted crop, and a great scavenger of nutrients. In some cases, all the nutrients needed can be obtained from deep in the soil – nutrients that would otherwise leach and cause problems down the track.”
“A Guide to Smart Farming is a great publication,” says Hew Dalrymple. “Every cropping farmer should get a copy and read it. It will help them maximise opportunities and make sure our land and water is in the best condition for the next generation.”
New Zealand and Australian residents can order copies and pay on-line by credit card via TradeMe. Search for Guide to Smart Farming
Please feel free to post feedback – does the book give good information? What could be added or updated?