Wednesday 22 June 2016

An Eye for Innovation at Fieldays 2016

Field days are a great part of working as a rural professional as they are a chance to catch-up with farmers off-farm where the most pressing time constraint for the day is no more than ensuring that you get to the coffee cart before the mid-morning rush and the bargain bin before it empties.

The teams at Agri Optics and Lindsay NZ passion for precision agriculture is innate as is our genuine interest in all things innovative so it is an opportunity to take a look at exciting new products and technologies. We’ve picked out a few of our favourites from the 2016 NZ National Agricultural Fieldays.

Optical Nitrate Sensor

Lincoln Agritech is in the process of developing a low cost, high performance groundwater nitrate sensor. Should this reach commercialisation we think there will be benefits for everyone who enjoys our rivers and lakes.

Jens Rekker was showing off the nitrate sensor prototype at #fieldays2016

Agriculture’s contribution to nitrogen concentrations in freshwater bodies has been under the microscope for several years now. Part of New Zealand’s approach to allow for continued primary sector growth whilst managing environmental impacts is the establishment of nitrate caps on farming operations. However a major challenge for those involved in these negotiations is the limitations of the current modelling to define the net effects on rural water quality.

It is this ambiguity that a direct, real time sensor with high spatial accuracy will resolve, closing the loop on the science so to speak. And therefore could be a vital tool to validate sustainable resource use and manage environmental impacts. We will be watching this space with great interest.

Pasture Robot

The pasture sensing robot is being developed as a joint project between Massey’s Centre for Precision Agriculture and the School of Engineering and Advanced Technology and aims to help farmers generate better information about the pasture and soils on their farms.

Pasture sensing robot on display at #fieldays2016
The current prototype has a multi spectral camera mounted which allows you to map nutrient variability. Plans are to enable the robot to be equipped with different types of sensors which could measure a number of soil or crop parameters. The development team envisage having it pre-programmed to be able to leave its docking station at say 4am to run a predefined pattern using RTK GPS and automatically send back the information to the office. This could be pasture growth levels, nutrient levels, moisture content, basically data from whatever sensors you have it loaded with. Unfortunately, it won't get your cows in for you........yet!

Current sensing technology is typically carried on planes or drones and uses expensive and complex equipment. A robot is a cheaper option that would also be more reliable as it is less weather dependent than drones. The hope is the robot will be fully automated, reducing time spent by farmers assessing pasture quality.


CalfSMART shows new thinking in automated calf rearing.  The system delivers the right balance of nutrition to each and every calf. Calves are identified by their RFID ear tags. CalfSMART sends information on all parameters to your smartphone or computer.

Karl Watson demonstrates the latest CalfSMART automated calf feeding system.
This new product leverages on two technology platforms that have enabled the development of many instrumental agricultural products; RFID animal identification and the smartphone. The power of the smartphone as a farming tool is massive, so many exciting apps have been developed in recent years giving farmers unparalleled access to control and data!  


FarmWalker (from FeedFlo) is a wireless data capture solution for rising plate meters. It allows easy data capture utilising a smartphone app. The app uses the phones GPS to log spatial data as well as pasture mass data. In essence the FarmWalker can build a low resolution pasture yield map, eliminating the requirement for any manual data handling and processing. This app could be a handy addition to a pastoral farmers’ toolbox enabling easy, basic yield mapping.

Robot Ron from Bosch

Robot Ron’s potential could be endless, perhaps his eyes are multispectral cameras, perhaps his feet are DualEM sensors, perhaps he will trim your front hedge after mowing your lawn… we’re not quite sure but he was a hit with every 10-year-old visiting the fieldays this year.

And finally the latest in Farmall tractor ergonomics, shown off during a parade of tractors around the Fieldays.

So thanks to the farmers, the families, other exhibitors, the coffee cart girls and guys, and all those that popped in to say hello and made our week at Mystery Creek so enjoyable!

This post is a combined effort by Nick, Chris, Paul, Stu and Sarah.

Thursday 16 June 2016

Your Precision Agriculture Specialists - NZ Fieldays - Site J41

We’re knee deep into NZ National Fieldays week and you may want to pack an umbrella or come and visit the Agri Optics tent where you will find the team of precision agriculture experts and shelter from the occasional shower.

Their combined knowledge from world leading variable rate irrigation (VRI) research projects and practical experience helping farmers on a day to day basis with electromagnetic mapping, soil moisture measurement and VRI solutions means you could not find a more qualified team to answer your precision agriculture questions!

Your precision agriculture specialists on site J41
Agri Optics - NZ Fieldays
Introducing the guys (from the left):

Chris Smith has over 20 years’ experience in farming, both in NZ and the UK Chris boasts a wide range of skills covering all aspects of agricultural management. Chris is the winner of awards in the UK for improved production yields, reduced overheads and a range of environmental schemes and enterprises. He moved to NZ in 2007 from the UK to manage a mixed 600ha cropping farm in Canterbury until late 2012. Chris has experience in EM Soil Mapping, a range of variable rate application technologies and has worked with on farm computer systems for over 15 years. In the UK Chris was involved from the early stages with variable rate nutrient application from grid soil sampling, canopy imagery and yield mapping.

Stu Bradbury graduated from Massey University with a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours in 2005. While studying, Stu and classmate George Ricketts set up Farm Mapping. Following University they continued with GPS farm mapping, designing new dairy conversion farm layouts and constructing centre-pivot irrigators. The combination of mapping and irrigation led to the invention of Variable Rate Irrigation and in 2007 the guys set up Precision Irrigation. Stu has been involved in countless VRI research projects and offers VRI solution advice globally.

Paul Whitehead also graduated from Massey University with a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours in the same year as Stu. Through his study and on leaving university Paul worked as a design and service technician for John Whitehead Electrical. As Paul honed his mechanical and electrical skills engineering fertiliser spreading equipment amongst other projects his aptitude for problem-solving shone. This natural inclination for problem-solving has helped countless farmers in New Zealand and abroad. Paul doesn’t leave a stone un-turned in his quest to solve a problem, working under flood lights to make sure he doesn’t drive out the farm gate until your variable rate irrigation system is working just perfect.

Nick Evans graduated from Lincoln University in 2013 with a Bachelor of Commerce in Agriculture. He then went on to complete a Master of Management in Agribusiness in 2015. During his time at university Nick sought out varied practical work experiences ranging from dairy farming on the West Coast to a wheat harvest in Victoria, Australia. Combining these experiences with university learning has built a solid foundation of agricultural knowledge. During the course of his Masters Nick was exposed to Precision Ag and found it to be a fascinating area of agriculture that had great potential.

Combined the team are your precision agriculture specialists (if you didn’t already notice the signage). Chris and Nick hail from Agri Optics based in Methven, Canterbury. And Stu and Paul are your Agri Optics North Island counterparts. If you don't happen to be heading to the field days this year and would like more information visit

Today's post come from those back in the office at

Site J41 in all its glory!

Monday 13 June 2016

FieldNET and EM Surveying. The Ultimate Moisture Management Solution.

Electromagnetic soil surveys (EM) and variable rate irrigation are two tools that when used together can have maximum impact on your bottom line and allows for optimisation of the VRI system. On top of this, systems such as the Lindsay Precision VRI and FieldNET can produce a proof of placement map which can be used for analysis with other layers. This feature adds to the power of the EM-VRI combo.

The EM Survey:
  • From the EM survey individual zones of soil type can be created, each with different water holding capacities.
  • Zone maps are geo-referenced which allows for further use in mapping programs.
  • Ground truthing of EM zones with a neutron probe will build a profile of actual soil water holding capacities.

EM Survey Zones

The VRI plan has multiple features:
  • Each soil zone has been added to have a different irrigation rate.
  • Tracks have been set as avoid zones. Troughs and low points can also have variable rates.
  • Pivot wheel tracks have a reduced irrigation rate.

FieldNET VRI Plan
 Once the plan has been run the FieldNET software will calculate the total mm of water applied over a given time period. This produces a map layer that can be used to further investigate relationships with other data layers such as yield data. The proof of placement map serves as excellent reporting tool as the total amount of water applied to each zone on the farm can be accounted for. It is important to remember that the combination of EM and VRI allows for greater precision and ultimately greater efficiency.

FieldNET VRI as applied map:
  • Irrigates to a set plan which can be dictated by factors such as soil moisture conditions, crop growth stage and available irrigation water.
  • Produces the record of water applied. This can be broken down further into water applied per zone. The reporting features enable accurate proof of water applied.
  • If a cost is applied over the water applied map a cost per zone can be quantified.
  • Further analysis can then be done on gross margin per zone with the cost of water applied factored in. Stay tuned to the blog to see the latest on this front.

FieldNET VRI as Applied Map

Data from irrigation proof of placement maps can be fed into OVERSEER®. The total amount of water applied can be used at a block level. This has in recent cases reduced leaching values at block level. It shows that there is merit in capturing this information and that there is potential for multiple uses for the data in the future. 

Another post from Nick, Precision Ag Technician. 

Thursday 2 June 2016

Agritech and Smart Management Poised to Reshape Farming and Growing

Havelock North played host to the delegates for the 2016 LandWISE “Value of Smart Farming” Conference. Day one started with an Australian perspective and Julie O’Halloran and Ian Layden from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries both spoke regarding challenges with precision ag implementation in the Queensland context. Both are working on a precision ag project with a small group of Queensland vegetable growers.
The key points in their project:
  • Identify variability using EM surveys and Trimble GreenSeeker technology.
  • Address variability using variable rate nutrients and water.
  • Make sure that data is utilised and implemented into management decisions.

For more info on Trimble GreenSeeker and EM Soil Surveys head to
The story of Keith Jarret’s successful Koln Concert was the analogy used by Ian make the point that although something doesn’t feel right, e.g a new technology, embracing the change and stepping outside the comfort zone can see great things can happen. Often, this is the case when new technology doesn’t perfectly fit the system. Taking the risk and making it work can end in a great result.

Dan Bloomer of LandWISE spoke about the website, a fertiliser spread analysis and calibration tool. Farmers, growers and contractors that spread their own fert should head there to see some of the tips for accurately calibrating their spreading equipment. The website provides access to some extremely useful and practical resources.

Boosting the growth and development of cutting edge NZ Agritech is the focus of Sprout (, an agritech incubator that is supported by many big New Zealand agribusinesses. Stu Bradbury, also from Agri Optics North, spoke about the role sprout is playing in developing Kiwi startup agritech ventures. 
Stu Bradbury introducing Sprout Agritech Accelerator
 Justin Pishief presented on the uses of profit mapping from georeferenced yield and topography data. Justin produced mapping layers showing how the topography of a particular paddock of onions was actually limiting the yield and subsequently the profit.
Source: J Pishief, Landwise Presentation
The key steps in utilising profit mapping:
  • Capture georeferenced data at harvest.
  • Identify the “Yield Gap”. i.e. the potential yield that each area or zone can reach.
  • Link this data to the cost of production.
  • Create a gross Margin for each zone in the paddock.
  • Identify what is causing this loss.

 Agri Optics is able to produce profit maps from captured yield data visit: for more info.

Day two of the conference introduced delegates to the future of smart farming. Big Data, Agricultural Cybernetics and machine learning was some of the jargon used in the morning presentations. However… Big data does not equal information. This was the guts the message from Tristian Perez, Professor of Robotics and Autonomous Systems at Queensland University of Technology. Farmers now have access to more data than ever but this does not necessarily equate to usable information. The biggest issue facing farmers now is no longer the volume of data but the variety. Data from multiple layers e.g. NDVI, EM and Yield are just some of the variety that farmers are faced with.

Drones in action at the Centre for Land and Water
The micro farm at the Centre for Land and Water (see for more info) was the setting for demos of drones spreading rice and aerial spraying as well as an autonomous vehicle designed to drive itself around orchards. The level of technology involved in automated ag vehicles is immense and the future of farm machinery will see farmers needing knowledge of increasingly complex machinery and technology.
Autonomous Orchard Robot

By Nick Evans, PA Technician at Agri Optics. @AgriOpticsNick