Monday, 28 January 2019

Maximising the Value of Irrigation

The H2Grow Team are excited to introduce Carolyn Hedley as our guest contributor, it is with great pleasure that we can share with you her valuable expertise. Carolyn is a Soil Scientist with Manaaki Whenua, based in Palmerston North, and lives on a small Kairanga farm with husband, Mike. Carolyn has combined her interests in soil science, proximal soil sensing and precision agriculture with on-farm studies of precision irrigation and soil carbon mapping. She has led several nationally funded projects in irrigation and soil carbon, including current leadership of the MBIE funded programme “Maximising the Value of Irrigation”.

Maximising the Value of Irrigation  -  Carolyn Hedley

Early in the new millennium I found out about EM mapping and in 2004 published a method in the Australian Journal of Soil Research to rapidly EM map soil variability on a basis of soil texture. I realised that EM mapping was a really useful new technology to rapidly survey soil variability. The EM map had picked the difference between a Kairanga silt loam and a Kairanga clay loam, and this had management implications for the farmer because the heavier textured soil would compact sooner when grazed in wet conditions.

I could see great potential in this new technology and so embarked on a PhD in proximal soil sensing and this is when I started to relate the EM map to soil available water holding capacity and realised how useful this could be for irrigation scheduling. But critics commented that irrigation systems cannot irrigate to such a complex pattern (example shown in Figure 1 below). Enter Stu Bradbury and George Ricketts, who had worked with me on some EM mapping projects when they were students at Massey University. There was an engineering solution to this problem – control the sprinkler system on a pivot to irrigate to any pattern – which led to the development of the Precision VRI system. Precision VRI, the world’s first true variable rate irrigation system, turned the heads of the global irrigation giants and as a result Lindsay Corporation acquired the technology development company founded by Stu and George.

Figure 1: Available Water-holding Capacity map derived from an EM map for a 100-ha area irrigated by a VRI linear move irrigation system
There was still work to be done though and a proposal put to the Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment received six years funding in 2013 to further research methods to improve management of irrigated land. Now in its final year, the “Maximising the Value of Irrigation” programme has been able to refine methods to use proximal sensor data to create prescription maps for precision irrigation. It has developed soil and crop sensing methods that can inform in near real time the prescription map, and a prototype scheduling tool has been tested with participating farmers as a smart phone app. The in-field sensor monitoring methods have been used to support Lindsay further refine the software control features for the Precision VRI system, which is remotely managed through the FieldNET platform.

Research into different soil management methods has identified correct tillage and soil surface management methods to store more water in the soil and reduce irrigation requirement and water losses. A spatial framework to run the APSIM model has been created to test the effect of different irrigation scenarios on yield, drainage and water use efficiency. Spatial-APSIM simultaneously runs the model for up to 1,400 grid cells for one irrigation system to compare results of different irrigation scenarios at spatial resolution < 50 m, over several decades.

The MBIE Programme “Maximising the Value of Irrigation” is now working closely with its industry advisory group to ensure that its findings are communicated effectively and to find ways to integrate new tools and support improved management of irrigated land in New Zealand.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Harvest 2019 is Upon Us!

Do you have yield mapping capabilities?

Are you storing your data in a secure location?

If your combine harvester is capable of yield mapping, do you use it? Yield map data is a powerful tool for making decisions on your farm. It is a record of how your crops reacted and performed under that season’s constraints. Constraints and variation may be apparent in your crops nutrient levels or application methods, or available water in the profile at critical times in the plant’s life cycle,and in most cases a combination of all the above!

I’ve been to many agronomy seminars where they always reiterate that when you sow your crop it starts at its maximum yield potential and everything from that point on reduces that potential. So, your yield data is a map of how well the crop has performed under that season’s conditions and how much variability there is in the soil profile within a paddock. Many arable farmers have paid for the technology but aren’t able to harness the power of the information that it provides. Agri Optics NZ are here to help with this.

Yield monitoring in any combine
One thing that isn’t stressed enough to growers with yield monitors is that they should capture the data regardless of whether they are able to use it at present or not. As having multiple years’ worth of data is far more useful than one year of data. The more years’ worth of data you have lessens the influence of a single seasons weather pattern or any out of the ordinary extremes. For example, in a wet year the lighter freer draining soils may be preferable for a higher yield and visa versa in a dry season. This process of compiling several years of data is called normalisation. Data is put into a relative scale and is compared across the years. Once data is normalised then we can identify common zones or production areas. These zones can be marked for future management decisions.

The difference between raw and processed data
Processing or “cleaning” the data is the key to successfully utilising the captured data. Raw yield points have a large amount of errors and “noise” that can significantly impact on the results. With these noisy bits removed and tidied up the data becomes more representative of the paddock. Some of the factors that impact on the data accuracy are cut width, flow delay and travel distance errors.
A processed yield map
Yield data can also be useful for identifying problems during the actual harvest of the crop. In one example a grower saw the results of him harvesting grass seed in the hottest part of the day. He was able to spot the mistake as recorded yield dropped in the swaths that he completed in the hottest temperatures. Ultimately the yield information informed him that the decision had cost him.

Making useful yield maps – the essential information

  1. ‘Rubbish in equals rubbish out’ – you only get one opportunity to collect this data so ‘do it once and do it right’
  2. Start the season with an empty data card - save a copy of all previous data to your computer and then ‘clean’ the card
  3. Naming –use the same naming for the same paddock each year as this makes finding your data easier at the end of the season
  4. Check the flow and moisture sensors – if these are not working properly then everything that follows may be a waste of time
  5. Calibration – at the start of harvesting each grain type calibrate the flow sensor
  6. Operation setup – make sure the cutter bar width is correct, as well as the flow delay is as accurate as possible
  7. Card check and back-up – confirm data is being logged by importing it into your mapping software or sending it to your Precision Ag specialist once you start for the season...not at the end of this season! Backup the data as a raw format throughout the harvest season also.
  8. If you collect the data as accurately as possible in the first place, then post-processing of the data to make it a useful resource is much simpler!

Yield data is the final measure of a seasons work. Yield data allows for insights into different management practices and the old adage “what gets measured gets managed” comes to mind. 

Have a good harvest!

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Celebrating 10 years of Irrigation Innovation

It’s a classic story of Kiwi innovation.

One summer’s evening in 2004, two Massey University engineering graduates, Stu Bradbury and George Ricketts were working a summer job assembling irrigators on the South Wairarapa farm of Brian and Jo Bosch. 

Over a cuppa, Stu, George and Brian discussed the challenges on the Bosch’s farm caused by the limitations of the existing pivot irrigation system.

“Where the pivot went over the races was wet and mucky,” says Brian.  “We were also getting a number of lame cows, who got wet feet and bruising on the muddy race.”

Brian Bosch on his Wairarapa dairy farm
Blanket irrigation was the problem. They needed a way of irrigating specific areas that needed it but keeping vulnerable parts such as the race dry.

Back then nothing on the market could manage the water flow in targeted and controlled quantities, to specific parts of the farm depending on topography and soil type.

“We saw wet areas where crops weren’t growing, and dry areas without much water. So there was an obvious need for a system to specify where you needed water and how much,” says Stu.

Before long George had the solution and in 2006 they began developing the prototype that would become Precision VRI. VRI stands for variable rate irrigation, ensuring precise amounts of water or nutrients are delivered over multiple crops, soil types and terrains.

To make best use of the technology on paddocks with variable soil types and terrain electromagnetic (EM) soil mapping is recommended. EM mapping measures soil conductivity which is an indicator of soil texture (along with other characteristics) and therefore soil water holding capacity. The Precision VRI system can be easily programmed using the FieldNET app to customise irrigation according to the EM map.

The system can be used to ensure that only the areas that need water, get water, and at the right levels.

Over the past decade Precision VRI has enabled New Zealand’s farmers, food producers and agricultural contractors to achieve better results, driving efficiencies and saving money – to the benefit of agribusiness, not only for dairying, but in sheep, beef, horticulture and arable farming.

In 2011 global agribusiness leader Lindsay Corporation acquired the NZ company WMC Technology Ltd under which the Precision VRI technology was developed. Through doing so the not only gained the rights to market the award-winning technology but also provided significant backing for George, Stu and the team to continue developing irrigation solutions.

From the archives: George and Stu at a farm mapping job in 2010 (above). Stu, George and Paul (below) receiving the Supreme Award at the Manawatu Business Awards 2010, WMC Technology Ltd also won the Innovation Award and the Workplace Health and Safety Award.

“We are working on new iterations of the software,” says Stu.

“Now, everything needs to be mobile-friendly so that is where our efforts are focused.”

Future plans to market the system internationally will give farmers world-wide the advantages experienced by New Zealand farmers using the system.

To find out more about the Growsmart Precision VRI system call 0800 438 627 or visit

Monday, 26 November 2018

New, Improved (and now award-winning) Irrigation Remote Management

Lindsay Corporation, global leaders in the development of innovative irrigation solutions, are keeping farmers ahead of the game with the latest enhancements to their FieldNET® mobile app. Available on Apple App Store® and Google Play™, the app is now more user-friendly with improved access, visibility and control of center pivots and lateral irrigation systems. Advancements to the variable rate irrigation control functions also make managing Growsmart Precision VRI systems even easier.  

The new app has been selected as an AE50 Award winner for 2019. Presented by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, the award recognizes the year's most innovative designs in engineering products or systems for the food and agriculture industries.

The technology offers seamless remote monitoring and control, integrating a farmer’s irrigation tools and systems. It is compatible with almost any electric pivot brand and delivers real-time information so farmers can see exactly what their systems are doing and control them quickly and easily from a smartphone, tablet or computer.

Key features and new, real-time functionalities now available via the FieldNET mobile app include:

  • The ability to enable/disable auto-restart and auto-reverse
  • End gun controls including aerial views
  • The ability to shut down multiple pivots simultaneously
  • Displays time remaining for current circle or until the next stop
  • An integrated pivot and VRI control dashboard
  • VRI plan previews overlaying satellite imagery
  • Increased VRI plan editing options
  • Live VRI system status data
“The new app delivers many new features and enhancements to FieldNET customers, several of which come in response to past customer requests,” said Reece Andrews, director of FieldNET and Zimmatic controls at Lindsay Corporation. “The new FieldNET mobile app has an extremely intuitive and fast user interface, offering an enhanced level of mobility and precision that growers won’t find with other remote irrigation management solutions.”

FieldNET is one of the most cost-effective remote irrigation management tools on the market. Lindsay’s commitment to developing innovative irrigation solutions ensures farmers can stay ahead of the game by having more timely, useful information to aid decision-making, making the most effective use of time managing their irrigation, minimising the need to visit the pivot and improving water and energy use. 

For more information about FieldNET, talk to your local Zimmatic dealer or visit 

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Ashburton A&P Show

Agri Optics showcased their services at the 141st annual A&P show in Ashburton on the 26th and 27th October, to catch up with existing clients and field enquiries from prospective clients. Despite the torrential rain while setting up on the Thursday, the show days themselves were thankfully a great deal better. I thought I’d write a blog about the sort of questions the team were answering as a point of interest to those who weren’t able to make it.

Picture 1: Nick Evans and Lucy Murray on a muddy Friday morning after finishing set up!
The theme of this year’s show was chosen by the President David Butterick and was “Irrigation – the life blood of mid Canterbury” – this is a great fit for Agri Optics’ services and solutions. It was also the topic we fielded most enquiries about!

Picture 2 & 3: The team answering clients enquiries.

There was much interest in EM surveying and how it can be used for variable rate irrigation to make better use of water, as well as a helping make more informed decisions on where to place your moisture probes.  We had people enquire about using their EM maps and VRI to conserve water and use that water elsewhere on the farm with potentially large savings to be made by not having to buy more water shares.

Picture 4 & 5: Areas of most discussion EM surveying and AquaCheck moisture probes!

The main point of discussion however was about moisture probes; from looking at the different options available to the different telemetry types and other sensors that can be added to the systems. From weather stations to milk vat monitoring to comply with the MPI Milk Cooling legislation that came into force in June 2018.

We ran many clients through their AquaCheck graphs and explained what they were seeing, things to avoid like getting spikes going through all the profile layers and how much water to put on and where the moisture trace should be sitting at different times of the year, which was very similar to the workshops we ran a couple of months ago. If you are unsure of what your AquaCheck Web graphs are telling you then please get in touch and we can help run you through the data, or if we are in your area we are happy to come and see you to go through it all. So just get in touch as making informed decisions is of paramount importance.

We will be at the Innovation Vineyard field day in Blenheim, which is run by the Marlborough Grape Growers Cooperative on the 14th November, the NZ Effluent expo at Mystery Creek on the 27-28 November, and at the FAR Crops event in Chertsey on 5th December. We look forward to catching up at one of these or other events in the coming months.

Agri Optics