Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Reduce the Cost of Nutrient Loss with Precision Ag (Part 1 of 3)

Precision Ag can help you in many ways with your Farm Environment Plan (FEP). Precision nutrient management, EM maps, topography data,variable rate irrigation (VRI) and moisture probes are all tools available to help you manage your FEP and mitigate any potential issues you may face - Reducing costs to your farming operation and the environment.

I will be looking at how each of these can help you over the next few blog posts (to make sure you don't miss out pop your email address in the "Follow By Email" box, to the right). In this first blog of three I am looking into precision nutrient management.

Improving Nutrient Management with Precision Ag

The objective here is to maximise nutrient use efficiency while minimising nutrient losses into water. This can be accomplished by looking at the nutrient levels in the soils themselves as well as monitoring the moisture in the soil profile to ensure you don’t leach nutrients out with over watering. Precision Ag can help you in several ways to achieve this, this week I will look at the nutrient levels themselves.

This is done through either grid or zonal soil sampling. Instead of taking one soil sample per field or block, you sample in a grid at a resolution of one site per hectare or take samples within each known soil zone from your EM survey. Whichever way the samples are collected the sites are geo-referenced that means you can go back to the same point every time you sample so you can see how you are managing your nutrient levels over a number of years. At each site 12-15 cores are taken and placed in a bag, labelled and sent off to the laboratory for that sampling point.

Picture 1: Geo referenced sampling points in a field.
When you receive the laboratory results, they look similar to those you normally get however the critical difference is they are all geo-referenced and are at a higher resolution i.e. one per hectare. The data received can then be processed to create a nutrient zone map; with nutrient levels grouped in ranges for the given area and given nutrient.  From that layer of data application maps are made to match the soil and crop requirements.  The main nutrients commonly applied using this variable rate method are potash, phosphate and magnesium as well as lime for pH.

Picture 2: A map showing the varying Olsen P values across a field.

By only applying what is needed where it is needed means you minimise any over-application of product with financial and environmental implications, and you also maximise the crops potential on a nutrient level. By using this method you can mine nutrient-rich zones reducing nutrient levels in those areas and apply only what is required elsewhere.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

International Recognition for Precision Ag Advocate

Here on the H2Grow blog we showcase leading edge precision agriculture technologies and practices often through case studies of growers achieving success through there application. But in today’s post we would like to showcase a true leader in precision agriculture – Craige Mackenzie. Craige is a leading advocate and role model within New Zealand, a pioneer in the adoption of precision farming techniques.

Craige has recently been awarded the 2016 PrecisionAg® Farmer of the Year. This is a huge accolade and NZ should be very proud that the award has gone to one of our own!

The PrecisionAg® Institute recognises outstanding people, programs, and organisations that are making a difference in the precision ag industry. Each year’s winners have devoted their careers to the technology that improves crop production stewardship, agronomy, and efficiency.

Craige and Roz Mackenzie at Greenvale Pastures
Craige’s focus has been on utilising precision agriculture systems to maximise nutrient and irrigation efficiency for improved farm sustainability, both environmental and financial.

Craige and wife Roz farm Greenvale Pastures, a 200ha fully irrigated cropping operation near Methven specialising in vegetable and small seed production. They are also 50:50 equity owners in Three Springs Dairies, a high-output dairy farm with 1,200 milking cows. Their adoption of precision ag technologies has resulted in improved seed quality and yield with reduced inputs.

The utilisation of Growsmart Precision VRI has led to annual water savings of 32% and resulted in vastly improved water management on their variable soils. Resulting in three years of no measured nitrate losses to the groundwater!

In this recent video Craige and Roz share some of their secrets to farming sustainably and profitably through by employing precision ag.

In 2010 Craige and daughter Jemma established Agri Optics Ltd., New Zealand’s first precision agriculture service company providing precision ag tools and services to NZ farming systems with a focus on field sensing (crop sensing and Electro Magnetic soil surveying) and spatial data management solutions. Agri Optics NZ is now recognised as New Zealand’s leading precision agriculture company. And are also coincidentally partners in the H2Grow crusade.

This post has been put together by Sarah Elliot (Lindsay NZ), and I would personally like to congratulate Craige for being recognised with this prestigious award - Congratulations!!

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Book your Irrigator in for a Winter WOF

It is winter and although irrigation is far from the minds of many spring has a way of sneaking up faster than expected, especially with busy times like calving and feeding winter stock. However finding (or scheduling) time for winter maintenance of your irrigator and VRI system will pay dividends when it comes time to fire the systems back up. So if you have not already done so you may want to consider a quick irrigator WOF check to make sure you get the best out of this critical piece of farm infrastructure. It may also be worthwhile evaluating if your irrigation system can be optimised or improved to save on costs such as water or energy.

Simple pre-season maintenance checks are able to be done by farm staff. A basic inspection while the irrigator is turned off can help assess if you will require service work to be carried out. It is recommended to park the pivot in an accessible position and ensure that the electrical isolator switch is tagged and locked to prevent accidental starting.

Every centre pivot should be supplied with an operation manual which can come in handy, for most you will find this in the inside door of the main panel. Some manuals actually include recommended maintenance checks with instructions to show you how to carry them out. Whoever is carrying out the checks needs to be aware that centre pivots are generally high voltage electrical systems, so leave all electrical checks to a qualified Service Technician. And if there is a need to work at heights make sure you have safe equipment to do so.

A walk up the length of the machine will allow you to assess any damage and parts requiring repair. Tighten, adjust or replace if possible, or note down so you can inform your Irrigation Dealer. Greasing of all the grease nipples as you go is highly recommended, important parts to maintain well-oiled are the pivot point, gear boxes and drive shafts. Checking that all moving parts around tower boxes are free and lubricated will help reduce problems for the upcoming season.

The uniformity of a centre pivot relies heavily on the correct sprinklers being fitted to each dropper, checking that the sprinklers installed match the sprinkler chart will allow your pivot to apply the specified application rates. Armed with a pole of some description you should be able to free any sprinklers that have become tangled over the truss rods.

It pays to check that the tyres are pumped up to their optimum pressure rating. As tyre pressure is critical not only for the life of the tyre, rim and gearboxes, but also the application rate of the sprinklers. Over or under-inflated tyres can apply higher or lower application depths than planned.

Once you have checked everything over with the pivot stationary, providing there are no required repairs, the next step is to run the pivot. This is ideally done when the soil is not too wet so that you dont create big wheel ruts, or worsen those that need attention. Wheel ruts significantly increase the load and wear on the drive train so should be dealt with when possible. Growsmart Precision VRI technology can be used to reduce the spray onto the wheel tracks to help minimise wheel rutting.

Obvious checks while running the pivot are leaks. Some of these can be fixed with simple repairs such as replacing droppers, but others may require a call to your Irrigation Dealer to sort out. While walking the length of the irrigator listen for excessive vibration or noise that may indicate issues on the towers motors, gear boxes and drive shafts.

Some component wear will depend on water quality as high concentrations of iron, suspended solids and effluent solids or grit can increase damage and degradation to parts. A general check is recommended every season to ensure that worn sprinklers and pressure regulators are replaced to maximise the efficiency of the pivot. Common causes to check for are blockages or damages from knocks during the previous season, missing sprinklers and spray plates.

At the end of the irrigator remove the sand trap cap (with the irrigator turned off) and flush the system to get rid of any sediment build up, this is very often common in the overhang. If your water supply has a high level of sediment than it is recommended that this is done regularly. 

Reducing the risk of breakdowns during the irrigation season will help avoid production loses due to downtime for repairs. Long term water and energy cost savings are also possible through the installation of technology such as variable rate irrigation, which can reduce nutrient leaching as well. If you would like more information on recommended maintenance checks for your irrigator, system calibrations or technology to improve water use efficiency call your local Growsmart by Lindsay Dealer

Dairy farmers Brian and Jo Bosch installed the first ever Growsmart Precision VRI system on their South Wairarapa property in 2008.  The benefit of installing equipment through an Irrigation Dealership with a reputation for reliable and timely service support really pays off.  
According to Brian, “There’s been no maintenance, this upgrade is the first money I’ve spent on it since installation – it’s just the software that needs upgrading, the hardware is fine. It’s just worked.” 
To read more about Brian and Jo's story click here

Written by Sarah Elliot part of the Lindsay NZ team

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Managing Environmental Compliance with Precision VRI and EM Mapping

Farm Fast facts:
Farm Name: Seadown Dairies
Cows Milked: 620
Length of VRI Pivot: 565m
Production: 1705/ha, 278000 KgMS
Pasture Grown/Harvested: 17,000 KgDM /14,500 KgDM
Key Benefits from VRI system: Reduced track maintenance, reduced pugging damage less water wasted.

Sustainable farm management was a major driver behind Brendan Caird’s decision to install Lindsay Growsmart Precision VRI with FieldNET on his 565m pivot. A major feature of the farm is a spring fed stream that flows through the middle of the irrigated area of the property. Totalling an area of approximately 5 ha, the streams and springs add to the visual appearance of the property and have been fenced and planted into a riparian zone. However without VRI effective irrigation management would have been considerably more difficult. By installing the VRI system Brendan is now able to work around mother nature and reduce his farms overall impact on the environment.
Riparian Zone in the middle of the VRI Pivot
The costs of irrigating his races and tracks were also a big part of the equation.

“Stock flows better, track maintenance is reduced and water is not wasted on unproductive areas” says Brendan who uses VRI to improve the conditions on the farm races. Nearly 5Ha of the 93Ha irrigated area is able to be avoided which includes races and waterways which allows Brendan to utilise that saved water elsewhere.

With an allocation of only 3.2mm/ha/Day irrigation practices need to be as efficient as possible at Seadown Dairies to maximise water use for grass production. Brendan also finds benefit in the VRI system to help remove paddocks from the irrigation round that are set to be re-sown. In the case of the 2016 season Caird planted fodder beet and set an irrigation plan to avoid the paddock whilst it was being cultivated. You can see the effects of this below. The yellow is the paddock that was avoided. The pink is for zones that were a part of the avoid zones.
As Applied Irrigation for the season. Note the paddock in Yellow.
Agri Optics conducted an EM survey on the property and the major soil zones were able to be identified see (http://www.agrioptics.co.nz/portfolio/em-survey/ for more info). The next step that Brendan and his team are working on is to begin irrigating to the EM soil zone plan. With multiple soil management zones identified on the property the goal is to water according to the relative requirements of each soil zone. This is aided by soil moisture sensing equipment to give the exact time that irrigation is required. Further to this Brendan can also be sure that soils are not being overwatered and water is not being wasted which Brendan says helps make his farm environment plan more comprehensive.

Blog this week by Nick @ Agri Optics
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