Thursday, 15 June 2017

'Tips, Tools & Technology for Efficient Farming' - Workshop Series

Do you want to improve the nutrient and irrigation management on your farm but are not sure where to start? Come along to a free 'Tips, Tools & Technology for Efficient Farming' workshop jointly hosted by Lindsay NZ, Agri Optics New Zealand Ltd and Irricon Resource Solutions.

Over the course of the workshop we'll cover off a range of topics from nutrient management, irrigation management and hardware, precision agriculture and how these all tie in with farm environment plans for efficient farming.

Please use this link to register - Register me for a workshop please!

We look forward to seeing you there

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

EM and high salinity soils:

As mentioned before in previous blogs, an EM survey measures the soil's electrical conductivity. The soil reading responds primarily to soil texture changes where clay gives a higher reading than silt, which in turn gives a higher reading than sand and, in cases where salinity levels are elevated, it shows up very strongly with values far higher than expected (salinity issues are a rare occurrence, but it is worth mentioning, hence the blog!).

Salinity has a huge influence on the sensor's readings, for example in an area where there are no salinity issues we can see EM readings in the deeper soil profile that are anywhere from 10 to in excess of 50 mS/m (the individual survey range can vary more or less). However when salinity is present in the soil, the profile the readings can be anywhere from 80 - 650 mS/m (EM units of measure) in the top 125cm of the soil profile.

In extreme cases there are also visible signs in the crop itself, where salt crystals can be seen on the plants as well as showing areas of very poor growth compared to areas with lower or no salt issues.

Picture: 1 - Salt crystals are visible on the plants.

Picture: 2 - Patches of poorer grass can be seen in areas of very high salinity. Initially it may appear that these very high readings (80-650 mS/m) totally mask the EM results (normal range maybe 10-50 mS/m) however, work we have done indicates the saline levels are still relative to the soil texture and drainage.

Picture3 - EM readings over 500 mS/m, with clay at 20cm and grey clay from 30cm in the soil profile. In areas of poor drainage we often see very high readings as the salt is unable to drain away. Background plant growth looks stressed and in a poor condition.

Picture: 4 - EM readings in the 80s indicate sandy soils that are freer draining. The reason for this, in a  high salinity scenario, is that more of the salt has managed to drain away over time so the readings are far lower (but still elevated) than a clay based profile. As can be seen background plant growth looks far greener.
Where salt is an issue - the lower EM readings (80-150 mS/m) are found in the free draining, sandier soils because the salt has been able to move out of the deeper profile.  In the poorly drained areas with higher clay content, we find higher EM readings (350-650 mS/m) as the salt cannot leech out of the soil profile over time.

It is clear that the soil texture and drainage are related to concentration of salinity within the EM survey area in a site with salt issues.

Land use and management also play an important part in the concentrations of salt in the soil profile. In areas that have been irrigated extensively there tends to be relatively low levels of salt and lower EM readings, however in areas where salinity is an issue that have not had a great deal of irrigation, it is likely that the salts have not been washed out and therefore the readings are much higher.

An EM survey is a very good place to start if you know you have salinity issues on your land to gauge where the worst areas are and by comparing with crop biomass maps and other yield data the levels of salinity impacting on your crop production can be highlighted. For more information on EM surveying see our website or contact us directly.

Chris Smith

Operations Manager Agri Optics NZ Ltd 

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Introducing the Next Generation in Irrigation Management - FieldNET Advisor™

FieldNET® by Lindsay has announced a revolutionary new solution to simplify your irrigation management - FieldNET Advisor™.

FieldNET Advisor is designed to provide growers with simple, science-based irrigation recommendations to enable faster, better-informed irrigation management decisions.

This innovative solution combines more than 40 years of crop and irrigation research into FieldNET’s proven technology platform, leveraging massive amounts of data, cloud computing capabilities, and machine learning to deliver growers one easy-to-use tool.

Key Benefits

FieldNET Advisor helps growers in their efforts to maximize their profitability through better irrigation management by helping them to better:
  • Maximize yield output and crop performance by reducing crop water stress and nutrient leaching
  • Reduce input costs and conserve water by reducing the likelihood of overwatering and the resulting loss of key nutrients
  • Save time and labor by providing quick, simple and intuitive irrigation management recommendations and alerts

How it Works
  1. Enter your crop types, hybrids and planting dates.
  2. FieldNET Advisor automatically combines this data with soil maps, hyper-local weather information, and as-applied irrigation history across your field.
  3. By tracking crop growth stage and root depth to monitor the amount of moisture available in the soil, FieldNET Advisor forecasts your crop's future water needs.
  4. FieldNET Advisor then makes recommendations on when, where and how much to irrigate, helping you improve your water use efficiency and enhance your profitability.
  5. Irrigation recommendations are automatically sent to your phone or computer through email or text messaging so that you can react in real-time.

FieldNET® by Lindsay have currently announced FieldNET Advisor in North American and will introduce into further regions/countries over a period of time. For more information visit and sign up to stay informed when it is available in your area.

The content provided in today's blog is courtesy of FieldNET® by Lindsay.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Finance of Farm Environmental Improvement

There has long been the perception that good environmental management comes to the detriment of the overall farming business.  I’d like to think we’ve got beyond that, but with nutrient regulations coming into play, I suspect that this perception if running rife again!  But, it doesn’t have to be that way, and in fact, it can be positive financially for the farm.  In this post I’m going to show you examples of where environmental and financial gains can be made for farms, and that the two objectives don’t have to be at logger heads.

Resource consents held by a farm is the obvious place to start.  Quite often, consents were obtained, shoved in a draw and never looked at again.  But consents are a valuable asset to a farm, and having the right consents is critical.  The three questions that need to be asked is:
  1. Are they correct?  For example, is my rate of take correct, is my effluent discharge area actually right, are my cow numbers to be milked right?
  2. Could they be better?  For example, does my effluent consent cover my whole farm to give me flexibility?  
  3. Are they even needed?   With Canterbury having changed its plan twice in the last 10 years, there are now consents that were needed under the old plan that are not needed under the new plan, for example consents to store dairy effluent.  
As an example, a consent audit was undertaken on a farm which had six consents to take and use water, and a dairy effluent consent.  This means:
  • Seven lots of monitoring charges.
  • Old take consents that no longer reflected what was happening on farm, including that none of the consents specified whole of farm for irrigation or effluent, and had horrible 14 day volumes that didn’t fit with newly installed pivot irrigation.  
The six take consents were merged into one consent, 14 day volumes removed and replaced with one annual volume for the farm, and the whole farm was also be irrigated with any source.  This means:
  • Better use of the water – the farm was no longer restricted by horrible 14 day volumes, so is able to irrigate when needed.
  • Easier to comply with – One consent versus six…..
  • Flexibility – The water can be used anywhere it’s needed, rather than from a certain point on a certain area.  
The paperwork is now sorted, so next it’s time to look on farm.

Is your infrastructure up to scratch?  This can encompass all types of things, but common examples include having effluent storage that’s big enough, or your control box says that the pivot is putting on 10mm, but how do you know that’s what actually coming out the sprinklers?  Right the way through to the question “is your pump and mainline adequate and not costing you more to run than they need to be?”  Has it been looked after?  Things like sprinklers broken or not turning, or missing altogether!  Remember that an irrigator has moving parts – how often are these checked and serviced?
And finally, how do you make the decision to start irrigating or when to discharge effluent?  The neighbor is not generally the most reliable tool to use, and if it’s too early, then its water wasted, effluent and therefore nutrient wasted, and production lost.

Now let’s take a look at lost production due to infrastructure.  We’ve got a farm with an intake that required frequent rehabilitation, and cleaning and clearing of weed despite it having a screen which resulted in reductions in flow.  It also had a mainline configuration resulting in substantial system losses, and pumps not performing at their optimum efficiency.  The farm needed 4.5 mm per hectare per day for optimal growth.  Because of the intake and mainline issues, it was constantly only getting 2.5 mm per hectare per day.  This resulted in a shortfall for the farm of 2650 cubic metres per hectare.  The impact on production from this shortfall is 10% or 1.5 tonnes of dry matter per hectare of average annual growth loss.  If this additional growth is worth 28 cents per kg of dry matter, this this is $420 per hectare.  And all this because the infrastructure was not doing what is supposed to be doing!

Now let’s compare a farm with soil moisture monitoring to one without it, both located within 1km of each other, of similar area, lay of the land, and irrigation systems.  For the 2013/14 irrigation season, the farm with soil moisture monitoring used 3213 cubic metres per hectare.  The farm without soil moisture monitoring used 5389 cubic metres per hectare.
  • Energy Cost to farm with soil moisture monitoring = $321.30 per hectare
  • Energy Cost to farm without soil moisture monitoring = $538.90 per hectare
And let’s not forget that less water applied = less nutrient loss.

So why look at all of this stuff I hear you ask?  The reality is that the use of resources on farm cost money:  Water, energy, fertiliser and/or effluent…. Increased production tends to not only cost money, but it is also considered to have environmental impacts.    In my view, it is really important that farmers don’t view the two as being incompatible.  A Farm Environment Plan and the process involved in preparing one, is a place to assess the risk of your farming business to the environment.  But you should take it as an opportunity to look at your business as a whole, and use it as a way to not only achieve good environmental management, but good “full stop”.    Don’t view the process as a hindrance, and just another regulation box to tick. Take the positive approach.

So, my final comments!

This has been a snapshot of the opportunities that exist on farm where being environmentally responsible can also be financially beneficial. So, use what’s coming from a regulation point of view to take a look at your whole business.  You might be just pleasantly surprised at what you find, and be able to make positive changes to your business all round.

Keri Johnston, Irricon Resource Solutions Limited.
Phone: (027) 2202425

Keri’s expertise is in the field of natural resources engineering and resource management, primarily in water resources, irrigation and nutrient management. As well as doing this, she farms with her husband and two girls at Geraldine.  

Monday, 3 April 2017

Wheat Crop World Record for Precision Pioneers

Eric and Maxine Watson have officially taken out the world record for a wheat crop, harvesting a massive 16.791 tonnes/ha. The Watson's were Precision VRI pioneers in the South Island and are constantly farming ahead of the game - this just proves it!!

TVNZ One: Ashburton farmer takes out world record for wheat growing

The team at Lindsay NZ have worked closely with the Watson's over the last nine years and are extremely thankful for the input Eric and Maxine have had into the research and development of the Precision VRI product. We would like to congratulate them on this commendable achievement!

More about Ashburton's Precision Pioneers

Eric and Maxine Watson
The Watson’s farm 490 hectares on the Canterbury Plains, with annual rainfall of 600mm, growing a wide range of crops on different soil types. In 2005 Rangitata Holdings water rights restricted their annual and daily water take, so they started looking for ways to stretch their available irrigation water. With an annual water volume of 1,183,500m³, 3.7mm per hectare per day and 5ha of irrigator overlaps, VRI was considered as the solution to save water where it was being wasted. This could then be applied elsewhere on the property where needed.

Ordering four VRI systems in 2008, after only two systems had been built and tested less than twelve months earlier, Eric and Maxine took a lot of trust and belief that the system would achieve what Precision Irrigation claimed. And the results exceeded their expectations. The Watsons now have seven out of their lateral-move irrigators fitted with Precision VRI.

“It’s a great system with a big future. Installing VRI was ideal for cutting out the overlaps inherent with my geo-lateral systems. Now that I have VRI, I couldn’t run the machines without it.”

The couples dedication to efficient water use has seen them recognised with numerous awards including the 2011 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Award and the Environment Canterbury water efficiency award. The Watson’s say they were just doing what was needed to get the best out of their limited water take. Once they identified the greater efficiency with Precision VRI, the opportunities snowballed.

Trials have been conducted under one of the lateral-move irrigators on Rangitata Holdings to prove how water can be saved through smart scheduling to only apply as much as is needed over different crops and soil types. The combination of Rakaia and Wakanui soils, including stony sandy loams and silt loams and contour of the paddock produces varying irrigation requirements across the length of the particular irrigator.

Eric and Maxine had the property electromagnetic (EM) mapped and the soil water holding capacities quantified, plus soil moisture sensors were installed to measure the actual moisture content of the soil. This allows the Watson’s to schedule the correct amount of irrigation to individual zones which is applied by the intelligent Precision VRI system. This results in the crops getting the exact quantity of moisture required and no water is wasted.

"Being able to match application rates to the exact amount of water needed to ensure the soil has enough moisture is important to water efficiency and means that over-watering of crops is eliminated."

This philosophy has been extended beyond the trials to the entire field and has resulted in a considerable saving of 15% of water that can be irrigated elsewhere. The extrapolated results for the entire field equate to a saving of 1 million litres of water and associated pumping costs per day.

Lindsay NZ