Thursday, 5 October 2017

In the words of Rachel Hunter - it won't happen overnight, but it will happen...

Wasn’t the whole election one big roller coaster?  If we have learnt one this from this whole affair, it is that we are all very passionate about our water resources – not necessarily for the same reasons, but passionate none the less.

Regardless of who ends up running the country (at the time of penning this blog, Winnie was still  courting both the National and Labour parties), I think it is clear that public opinion will ensure that water management and associated policies will be addressed is some way, shape or form by the incoming government.  Given this, I think it is important (and timely) to look back and acknowledge where we have got too in relation to this, but also to look forward at where we can still go.  

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPSFM) and Regional Plans
Most regional councils now either have notified or operative plans which outline their methods for addressing water quantity and water quality.  While no two plans are alike, the NPSFM requires limits are set, therefore, all plans do just that – they set allocation limits for surface and groundwater resources, as well as water quality limits.  It is the latter which takes various forms including property limits and/or catchment limits using Overseer, in stream water quality limits, and the development of the Good Management Practice (GMP) framework.    Many councils have also adopted the use of audited Farm Environment Plans to be able to monitor, measure, report and ensure that farms are meeting their environmental obligations. 

As with anything in life, good things take time.  Councils are in the process of rolling out and implementing these plans now.  The effects will not be immediate, but they need to be given a chance to actually work. 

It must also be remembered that for many areas, it is as much about maintaining the already good water quality that exists – this is not allowed to deteriorate.  For those few areas where improvement is needed, the plans bite much harder, and that it totally appropriate.

The fact that all of this has occurred seems to have been completely overlooked by many, and it’s not just politicians I’m referring too. 

How are we meeting our environmental obligations already?
Figures provided by Irrigation New Zealand show that since 2011:
  • $10 million invested in audited Farm Environment Plans;   
  • $600 million invested by existing irrigators upgrading to modern, efficient irrigation systems;
  • $18 million invested in precision irrigation technologies;
  • $15 million invested in installing irrigation decision-making technologies;
  • More than 24,000 kilometres of our waterways have already been fenced off to exclude stock at a cost of $220 million. 

As we continue to meet our environmental obligations, you can only expect these numbers to increase.  It is noted that this expenditure is all on farm, reinforcing the point that water quality will be addressed at the farm level. 

Looking Forward
Regional Councils need to continue to implement their plans. This may seem like an obvious thing to state, but it’s true nonetheless.  Consistent messages and enforcement from the regulatory bodies will be a must.

I believe that many farmers are on board with GMP (the on-farm practices) despite still being largely ignorant or merely confused by the new environmental regulations.  Education is still key to the success of this stuff, and that has to come from all involved – banks, valuers, real estate agents, farm advisors, customers… anybody involved with the farm.  And, many farmers are being innovative and taking up technology where it is available.  You only have to look at the statistics above regarding the investment to date in irrigation upgrades and precision irrigation technologies.  

And last, but not least, time, time, time.  To quote Rachel Hunter from her Pantene ad, “it doesn’t happen overnight, but it will happen”, and it is happening.  Get on board, and keep it up.

 By Keri Johnston, Irricon Resource Solutions
Phone 0272202425 or email

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Stock Exclusion - What's the go?

Out and about recently, Lilian Sherman, our North Island Rural Environmental Specialist, has heard a lot of discussion about the stock exclusion rules coming into play.  Unfortunately, a lot of what she has heard has had a serious dose of the ‘chinese whispers’ and the end result is that there are a lot of myths out there with regards to stock exclusion.  Below, Lilian dispels some of those myths and provides you with some confidence around the rules.

While there is no formal definition, stock exclusion generally means to exclude stock by some means from entering a waterbody.  In most cases, the stock exclusion definition does not include sheep or goats, as sheep and goats do not tend to linger in water!  In most cases the means of achieving stock exclusion is not specified, therefore the best method or technology for each situation can be used.  This may be a permanent fence, a hot wire, or as is currently being developed, virtual fencing.
Why is stock exclusion necessary? Stock entering waterways can cause significant damage by contributing nutrients (primarily nitrogen and phosphorus), sediment and faecal coliforms to our waterways. They do this though the direct deposition of dung and urine into rivers, treading damage and reduction in beneficial vegetation that results from grazing stream banks.

As part of the Clean Water package recently released by the Ministry for the Environment, there are proposed National Rules for Stock Exclusion.  Consultation on the proposed stock exclusion regulations and other aspects of the Clean Water package closed on 28 April 2017. This feedback is being considered and will inform the final decision on the National Rules.  The proposed stock exclusion rules are practical and there are different requirements for different classes of stock and for topography (plains, rolling and steep).  More details are available on the Ministry for the Environment Website (

The proposed National Rules for Stock Exclusion recognise that for some landowners, there may be significant practical constraints that mean they are unable to meet the new requirements. In those cases, landowners can apply for permission to instead develop a stock exclusion plan with their regional council. The plan may include alternatives to fencing or mitigations to reduce the impact of stock access to waterways.  An example of this would be providing alternative areas of shade and reticulated stock drinking water, which may also provide other economic and animal health benefits.

It is important to note that the National Rules for Stock Exclusion will form the minimum requirements, and councils may choose to regulate over and above these in their regional plans.

There are some challenges excluding stock from waterways, including the effects of flooding, the proliferation of weeds and pests and access through vegetation to waterbodies.  These are valid issues and I have confidence that farmers will find practical solutions for these as the rules come into play.

In the meantime, if you are putting in new fence line or carrying out fencing maintenance, consider whether there is an opportunity to make a change to a fence line to exclude stock or make it easier to exclude stock in the future, but its also an important consideration for any development on farm such as irrigation (whether new or upgrading) and the location of waterways should be a key consideration in any design being undertaken. 

Keep an eye out for the final versions of the National Stock Exclusion Rules.

Lilian Sherman, Irricon Resource Solutions Limited.
Phone: (021) 378 308

Lilian is a Rural Environmental Specialist and Director at Irricon Resource Solutions, who works with farmers and horticulturists to prepare farm environment plans, resource consent applications and to assist with nutrient management and Overseer modelling. 

Lilian grew up on and lives on a sheep and beef farm, she has a practical knowledge of farming, including sheep, beef, deer, dairy, cropping and horticulture and combines her passion for farming with a wealth of nutrient management and environmental expertise in this role.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Tips, Tools and Technology for Efficient Farming - Part 1

During winter the H2Grow team ran a series of workshops throughout the South Island titled ‘Tips, Tools and Technology for Efficient Farming’. These workshops were very well attended and the team thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone and the wide-ranging discussions that were had.

For those that were unable to attend we do not want you to miss out, so over the next few blog posts we will be posting notes of the key messages from each of the presentations. These are only condensed versions of the main points so if you would like further information or have any questions then please do feel free to contact the contributors directly by either clicking on the photo widgets to the right of this blog, or use the links provided.

The first set of presentation notes briefly cover the following topics:
  1. Why should we care about farming efficiently?
    • Nutrient management - why are we doing this?
    • Irrigation and nutrient management - how to they fit together?
  2. Soil moisture and water use efficiency
You will see there are two copies of the notes, one for Canterbury and the other for Otago as the notes relating to the regulations between these two areas differs.

Both topics were presented by Irricon Resource Solutions, so for more information please fee free to contact Keri Johnston or a member of the Irricon Team.

Friday, 11 August 2017

The irrigation season is just around the corner…

With the days getting longer and the weather getting warmer (I’m sure it’s too good to be true!) spring growth will soon be kicking into gear and irrigation season will be just around the corner. Now is the time to be ensuring that you’re as prepared as you can be for the irrigation season.

If you’re an irrigated farmer now is the time to be thinking about how you’re going to schedule your irrigation throughout the upcoming season. The days of scuffing the dirt with your boot and having a dig with a spade are fast coming to their end with the need for on-farm soil moisture monitors such as the AquaCheck probe, to give some more accurate numbers to the soil moisture levels than a scuff of your boot on the soil. Having soil moisture probes installed on farm not only helps you make better irrigation decisions but it also gives you some hard and fast data to have when it comes to Farm Environment Plan (or the likes) auditing.

Soil moisture probes for use this coming season should be being installed now or over the next few weeks ideally. All continuous soil moisture measurement devices take a period of a few weeks to ‘settle down’ and give accurate readings post installation.

At Agri Optics we have a great soil moisture probe in the AquaCheck probe as part of our suite.

The key things to note on these probes compared others (other than their great price) are as follows:
·         They’re fully telemetered, giving you access to view up-to-date soil moisture data and make timely decisions based on current, actual data
·         They’re a vertical oriented probe that has multiple soil moisture sensors down their length, giving you a total soil moisture trace and soil moisture traces at each different sensor depth. This means that you can see how the soil moisture moves down through the soil profile and how effective you’re being with your irrigation management. The bottom sensor is also a good ‘check’ for drainage leaving the root zone
·         The AquaCheck probe has built-in soil temperature sensors – a good gauge to be able to better manage irrigation and fertiliser timings in the shoulders of the season in particular
·         They have the option of connecting to rain gauges to give accurate records of rainfall and irrigation at each soil moisture probe site
·         They have a short ‘settling’ time post install compared to most of their competitors, meaning that you’ll get useful data to make decisions off in a short time frame
·         They’re easy to install and uninstall, making them great for seasonal cropping situations
·         They’re very competitively priced
·         There are multiple depth option so that the depth of the probe installed can be matched to your farming system and requirements
·         In NZ they’ve got Agri Optics behind them, to help you, the farmer understand and interpret soil moisture readings and get the most out of soil moisture probes for irrigation scheduling

You can also view more information on the AquaCheck probes on our website:

If you’re interested in the AquaCheck probes or need a soil moisture solution for this season please don’t hesitate to contact one of the Agri Optics Team for some more information and a quote.  

All the best for an upcoming irrigation season & year ahead!


Wednesday, 12 July 2017

The Ultimate Add-On for Cost Efficient Irrigation

Growsmart Precision VRI with FieldNET is the ultimate add-on for easy and cost efficient irrigation, Maniototo sheep and beef farmer Hamish Mackenzie says.

“It’s simple, easy to use and gives you heaps of flexibility. I can sort and upload a watering plan and set it going at the push of a button,” Hamish says.

Hamish Mackenzie uses Growsmart Precision VRI to apply the right amount of water, in the right place at the right time at Kyeburn Station
At Kyeburn Station, an extensive 3300ha sheep and beef property, 260ha of flats are irrigated. Half the area is watered by a 570 meter Zimmatic centre-pivot. It was installed with Growsmart Precision VRI in 2015 and in November 2016 was upgraded with FieldNET, a remote communication tool making it possible to control Growsmart Precision VRI from any internet-capable device. The limited cell phone coverage means Hamish is not set up for complete remote control but FieldNET has given him greater flexibility over irrigation. And he says the new updated system is far superior to its predecessor.

“I do all of my irrigation plans on the home computer. If we had reliable cell phone coverage I’d be able to send them remotely to the pivot but because we don’t I put them on a memory stick which I then plug into the pivot panel of the irrigator. It’s really simple and straightforward.”

The touchscreen panel allows farmers to easily make changes to irrigation plans out in the field.
This season the pivot watered 37ha of Relish red clover-based pasture; 28ha of lucerne; 12ha of barley; 17ha of swedes; and 7ha fodder beet. The patchwork of different crops, each with different watering requirements throughout the season could have made irrigation planning and management a headache. But the combination of Growsmart VRI and FieldNET made it surprisingly straightforward.

“You can add in as many different fields as needed, and alter the watering rates on each or keep them out of the rotation as required. That’s the beauty of VRI and FieldNET, it’s so easy to alter things.”
Installation of FieldNET was about $1,000 on top of the Growsmart VRI but he reckons he’s easily recouped the cost – and saved water. Efficient use of water is a number one priority given the region’s 500mm annual rainfall and extended summer dry periods.  Water is taken from the Kyeburn River, from a main race which Hamish shares with four farms. He has a 52l/s allocation but over the last year the combination of Growsmart Precision VRI and FieldNET has reduced pivot water use to about 43l/s.

“I’ve been able to cut back the percentage flow through the pivot in summer and we’ve been able to use the extra if needed for k-line irrigation. Also we’ve saved money because we’re not having to pump as much water and we don’t need as much pressure.”

Irrigation development at Kyeburn Station started after completion of tenure review in 2009.
“We surrendered 4700ha of hill country to the Crown in 2009 so we had to intensify what we were doing.”

The goal was to maintain the same number of stock units by ramping up production on flat country. They purchased some neighbouring land that was irrigated, and added another 100ha pivot. There is now 260ha under irrigation, of that 180ha is covered by two Zimmatic pivots, one of which has Growsmart Precision VRI and FieldNET.

“I will sometime in the future retro fit the older Zimmatic pivot with Growsmart Precision VRI as well. I think it’s really important given the push by regional councils to encourage farmers to use less water and become smarter with how they irrigate.”

Lindsay NZ