Tuesday 22 November 2016

Legumes + Efficient Water Use = Great Results at Omarama Station

Omarama Station recently played host to the "Legumes in the High Country" field day, organised by Lincoln University and Beef + Lamb NZ. There was a good turnout of farmers and industry professionals to the farm owned and run by Richard and Annabelle Subtil, 2015 winners of the South Island Farmer of the Year competition. The focus for the day was the use of legume species in the high country environment with a short session on the use of irrigation and soil moisture monitoring in the arid environment that is the Mackenzie Country.

Omarama Station (Courtesty of Richard Subtil)
Omarama Station covers 12,000ha with a mixture of dryland high country and irrigated flats. The property has had significant development work undertaken and a number of centre pivot irrigators installed that irrigate 560ha. A large water storage pond has been constructed to supply water to the irrigation system.

Dr MS Srinivasan from NIWA gave the first presentation for the day at the site of the lysimeter that has recently been installed on the station. The lysimeter is the first in the Waitaki catchment and aims to build knowledge around drainage and soil water under the developing soils at Omarama Station. The site contains three catchment sleeves one of which has soil moisture sensors installed. Any drainage water from the site is measured which gives an indication of the soil moisture status and how drainage from the soil profile is taking place.

From a soil moisture point of view the lysimeter is important as the soils at Omarama Station have exceptionally variable fertility, structure and water holding capacity. Irrigation is not new to the area however the shift from border-dyke irrigation to more efficient spray irrigation has seen a massive change in the water use efficiency on extensive properties such as Omarama Station. Soil development under irrigation is an interesting concept and soils mapped on Omarama Station have shown to have varying levels of water holding capacity based on how long they have been irrigated for in the past. Investigation has shown that the depth of soil and the water holding capacity has improved under 30 years of irrigation. 

Irrigation at Omarama Station (Courtesy of Richard Subtil)
Agri Optics has installed three sub-surface AquaCheck probes that will complement the work being undertaken at the lysimeter site. This information will flow into the decision making process that is used around timing and quantity of irrigation water applied by the team at Omarama Station. 

Derrick Moot spoke on how selection of species was important to maximising water use efficiency in moisture deficient environments such as the Mackenzie Basin. As we know lucerne is a great fit into dryland high country systems. It has the ability to maximise the water use efficiency and has a high water to dry matter conversion ratio (kg DM/mm/ha). The selection of species going forward and the development of novel species all points towards maximising the efficiency of water use in dry high country areas.

Write up by Nick Evans

Friday 18 November 2016

Lincoln University Dairy Farm Open Day 2016

This Saturday the Lincoln University Dairy Farm (LUDF) will open its gates to showcase the operations of a commercial dairy farm.
Visitors will get an opportunity to ‘get up close’ and learn about the transformation of ‘sunshine into food’. 
Included in the program is the importance of water to enable a dairy farm to produce milk that we get to enjoy on our Weetbix every morning.
The farm will be open to the public from 1pm-4pm. This is a great opportunity for anyone in the Christchurch and Canterbury region who has not had the opportunity to visit a dairy farm before.

For more details visit www.farm-openday.co.nz.

Wednesday 16 November 2016


Firstly, I’d like to say a big hello to all our blog followers reading this - I sincerely hope you’re enjoying the H2Grow blog that we’re putting together to help you gain more understanding about irrigation and ways in which you can increase the efficiency of not only the irrigation on your property but your farming system in general. But enough about that; let me introduce myself and my motivation for bringing the H2Grow blog to life…

I was born and bred on an arable farm in Mid Canterbury. Like Sarah Elliot I have very fond memories of growing up on the farm and following my Dad and Poppa around on the farm from a very young age. I had pet lambs, and calves, rode ponies, helped feed out, shifted break fences, drove tractors and as I got older, shifted gun irrigators. Because of my love for farming and everything outdoors after I finished high school I went to Lincoln University to study a Bachelor of Agricultural Science. I loved my time at Lincoln, however was getting itchy feet as lots of my friends were travelling so in the third year of my four year degree I decided to get my own travel fix while still continuing my studies by undertaking a year of ‘Study Abroad’ at Colorado State University in the USA. I had an absolute blast and got to take specialist papers on things such as irrigation and Precision Agriculture that we couldn’t do here in NZ which made me think how we could adopt some of the cool things they were doing on farms in the USA back here in NZ. So, I came back to NZ, completed my degree and fresh out of Uni and a bit green, started New Zealand’s first specialist Precision Ag company Agri Optics New Zealand in conjunction with my parents. Over the years we’ve grown the company both in terms of size and also the range of products and services that we offer. We’re now up to a staff of four people and we offer our products and services across the whole of New Zealand.

Discussing the benefits of precision agriculture technologies and practices at a North Otago field day following some very successful trials on the property
While I’m not as hands-on on the cropping farm that I used to be in my younger days, I still keep my hands in the mix with helping with Precison Ag decision making. I also have moved (slightly) further south to Geraldine, South Canterbury where my husband’s family have a sheep & beef farm. The two types of farming are completely different and both offer their unique challenges and advantages. I feel privileged to be involved with both & hopefully with increases in efficiency and the use of technology will be able to take these farms forward sustainably and allow our daughter the upbringing on the farm that my husband and I both have such fond memories of.

Hard at work dosing ewes and lambs on our lease block with Paige learning the ropes
It’s been a great journey so far and I’m sure the future will be just as exciting!

Jemma Mulvihill

Monday 7 November 2016

Introducing: SARAH ELLIOT

I considered starting this post to introduce myself boasting my passion for New Zealand agriculture - but how often do you read that statement and dismiss it much like you dismiss the over-use of superlatives in rural advertising?

So why is agriculture in NZ so important to me?

My fondest memories of growing up on our sheep and beef farm in Waitotara (South Taranaki) are “working” on the farm with Dad; riding shot-gun opening gates, feeding out, chasing sheep in the yards, probably just being a general nuisance. With endless area to explore, countless animals to play with, green grass and glorious mud your perspective of farming as a child is sublime!

My enthusiasm to participate in rural community events also grew from a young age. I credit this to the fantastic and friendly people in rural communities!

Working as a Jilleroo on Meda Station, a 1.25 million acre Brahman cattle station in the Kimberley’s 
By my latter years of secondary school when I was browsing university brochures I was drawn to the agricultural courses. But rightly or wrongly the school career guidance suggested with my exam results I should extend myself so enrolled into a Bachelor of Technology majoring in Product Development. I graduated with honours and was awarded the 2004 Product Development prize for my final year project with renowned NZ company Gallagher.

Summer university employment tracking milk losses in the Whareroa Fonterra plant one year and manufacturing TechnoGrazing™ system hardware for Kiwitech another also grew my appetite for solving challenges and looking for better solutions.

But what does this have to do with a blog aiming to help farmers improve irrigation efficiency?

After several years working abroad, when the opportunity came up to work with a team of guys who had just commercialised the world’s first true variable rate irrigation (VRI) system I felt it ticked all the boxes for me. I was going to be using my skills and experience as a mechanical design engineer to develop cutting-edge technologies to benefit the people, industry and environment that I love.

John Wright and I at a field day on his property, Wainono Dairies. John and his wife Sarah were early adopters of the Precision VRI system.
I have now been working in the irrigation industry for over five years and my primary role has been introducing farmers to Precision VRI technology and working with them to get the maximum benefit for their farm. I have had the pleasure of working with leading dairy farmers from NZ and Australia, poppy growers in Tasmania, onion producers in South Australia, turf growers in Queensland, cropping farmers, sheep and beef farmers from small scale to large. What strikes me as common to all the farms is that they can have the best technology in the world, but it won’t make a scrap of difference unless the person pressing go understands “why”. And this is the reason why I shoulder-tapped some people who know some things about efficient irrigation and together we formed H2Grow.

I also have a selfish agenda in wanting to increase knowledge of better, more efficient farming practices…  

My husband and I own and run Waikora Station, a 2333ha hill country property in the Hakataramea Valley, South Canterbury. It’s been a tough two years due to extremely dry conditions but experiencing this has grown my appreciation of the challenges faced as farmers. Like many other farming families we hope that one day our son may have the option to take over if he wants, but to make this possible it has to be sustainable (another currently on-trend word for you). And it doesn’t take long to realise how the consequences of our decisions affect the economics of our operation and impact the environment where we live and the community we live in.

Hamish and I on our farm, Waikora Station, in the Haka Valley