Wednesday 20 December 2017

The Importance of Timeframes – Resource Consent Timeframes That Is…

Christmas seems to be a magic deadline for people – apparently the 25th of December is the date at which the professional world as we know it will cease to exist and heaven help us if we miss it.

While Christmas is more of a perceived deadline for things, there are some real resource consent timeframes or deadlines that you should be aware of.   As over-allocation of our resources has become an issue, so has the methods by which councils can use to reduce over-allocation.  This is where timeframes around consenting are beginning to bite and councils are actually using their powers. 

Lapse Date and the Cancellation of a Consent

The first is the lapse date on a resource consent.  This is not the expiry date, but rather the “use it or lose it” date.  From the date of grant of a consent, you have up to five years to use the consent, or you lose it.  This is particularly important in over allocated water catchments for example as lapsing a consent is one of the mechanisms that a council will use to claw back over allocation.  You may apply to the council to extend your lapse date, but you have to be able to demonstrate to the council that you have taken considerable action towards actually using the consent.  The maximum extension that would normally be given is a further two years.

Even if a consent has been used before the lapse date, it can still re-lapse if it is not used for a five-year period after that, so this is something that you also need to be aware of.   This is referred to as cancellation of a consent. 

Renewal of Existing Consents

There are also important deadlines around renewing resource consents.  An application to renew a consent that is received by the council at least six months prior to the expiry of the consent is guaranteed to be given ‘continuation’.  What this means is that you can continue to operate under your existing consent until such time that a decision is made on the replacement.  Getting continuation is critical if processing the renewal is likely to take considerable time like we have seen here in Canterbury where renewal applications have spent years in process waiting on plans to be developed. 

A renewal application received after six months but before three months of the expiry date may get given continuation, but it is at the council’s discretion. 

Securing continuation also means that you have priority to a resource over someone else competing for the same resource.  So again, if we think water permits where a resource is nearing its full allocation, you want to be able to re-secure your access to that water ahead of a new user.   

If you find yourself within the three-month window, then continuation cannot be given, and you must cease your activity at the expiry date.  If you are in an over-allocation situation again, this may cause issues with your renewal, and there is a risk of the council not granting the renewal consent (another way to claw back over-allocation). 

Expiry Date

Once a consent expires, and if no application has been received by the council to renew the consent within the required timeframes, then you no longer hold a consent to undertake that activity or have any right at all to renew it.  If you find yourself in this situation, and you do want to carry on undertaking your consented activity, then you have to apply as if you are a brand-new consent.  In over-allocated areas, you may not even be able to apply for consent as many councils have now made it a prohibited activity to apply for consent in over-allocated areas.  Prohibited means that you cannot even apply to the council – the door is shut tight. 

These dates are all things that any consent holder needs to know.  A resource consent is not an unlimited right for unfettered access to a resource, or to undertake an activity.  It can be revoked by not using it, or by failing to meet the timeframes around the renewal process.  

Also, a small request from this consultant.  An application for resource consent can take a fair amount of time to prepare – even if it is for a renewal, the amount of information required to be supplied is just the same as it is for a new application.  Therefore, please give your consultant plenty of time to get the application in – it is no good fronting up a week before the application must be submitted and expecting that it can and will be done in that timeframe, and the same goes for that magic Christmas deadline…

By Keri Johnston, Irricon Resource Solutions
Phone 0272 202 425 or email

Wednesday 29 November 2017

Useful Farming Technology Apps and Websites

Technology – there are those who embrace it with open arms, and then there are those who don’t… but love it or hate it, there are some very good pieces of technology that could be extremely useful for farmers wanting help with environmental compliance, or even just some advice and support.  And, with the increased need to be accountable and “doing things right”, these are some of the technology tools and resources that I have come across in my day job that I thought were worth a mention. 

Riparian Planner

This is an online tool developed by DairyNZ.  It is a step by step process to design, budget and prioritise water management on farm.  It is extremely user friendly, and a good starting point if you are considering riparian planting on your farm.  This is a useful tool for all types of farms.  The web page address is as follows:

Check-It Bucket Test app

This is available for both Apple and Android devices via the App Store or Google Play Store.  The app walks you through an annual performance assessment of your irrigation system, provides the results instantly to your device and e-mails a final report to you.  This is a great way to check whether your irrigation system is performing as you expect.  Is water being applied evenly?  Are you putting on what your control box says you are putting on?  You do need to own a few buckets to carry out the test, but the insight into your irrigation systems performance is well worth the trip to town to invest in the buckets.  Some irrigation schemes do have buckets that you can borrow for this purpose, so ask around too. 

Soil Moisture Monitoring

Soil moisture monitoring equipment is by no means new technology, but the amount of it now on the market has increased substantially and understanding what is the right tool for you can be difficult to work out. You must choose the right equipment for your soil, land use activities and irrigation system type, and then locate, install and calibrate (if necessary) it correctly. Accessing, managing and understanding the data is also important. If soil moisture monitoring is to be successful, each of these aspects has to be carefully worked through.  Irrigation New Zealand has developed a resource book for this very topic and it can be found here:

Online GIS systems

For those of us here in Canterbury, Canterbury Maps is an amazing resource.  Not only can you create farm maps, but it can be used to search for information about any property, consent information, bore information, and any other relevant information that you may need such as nutrient allocation zones, the location of wetlands or Runanga sensitive areas.  This can be found here:

Other councils do have online GIS systems, but none are quite to the level of Canterbury Maps.  But check out what your local council does have.  Understanding what is of interest and/or significance on and around your farm is key these days. 
FDE Calculator app

Dairy NZ has developed an app to allow you to work out how to manage your Farm Dairy Effluent (FDE).  You can easily calculate nutrient loadings and application rates, therefore enabling application of effluent with greater precision.  It can be used for diluted dairy effluent as well as for slurry tankers and muck spreaders.  This is also available for both Apple and Android devices via the App Store or Google Play Store.

I hope you find this information useful, and please let me know of any others that you think might be worth checking out.

 By Keri Johnston, Irricon Resource Solutions
Phone 0272 202 425 or email

Tuesday 14 November 2017

Technology Transforming New Zealand Irrigation

The latest issue of the IrrigationNZ News (Spring 2017) features an excellent and in-depth article on how technology is transforming irrigation in New Zealand. Featuring six case studies from throughout the country describing the different technologies applied on each farm - from soil moisture sensors to weather forecasting options to automated irrigation systems "designed to deliver the right amount of water at the right time".

Many of the technologies discussed have been previously showcased on our H2Grow blog so if you are interested to find out more follow this link and turn to page 28 => IrrigationNZ News: Spring 2017

Overlooking the North Otago dairy farm run by Nick Webster part of the "Peter Mitchell and Nick Webster" case study discussing how they use Growsmart Precision VRI technology to improve their operation.

Shared by the H2Grow team.

Friday 27 October 2017

Asian Australasian PA Conference: New challenges and New Tech

Hamilton hosted the International Tri-Conference in Precision Agriculture last week and the event was a huge success. Approximately 500 delegates from around the world descended on Hamilton for a very full on three days of discussion around networking in the Precision Ag field. The tri-conference had speakers in both precision livestock and arable fields.
Livestock data collection is a major part of management on the LIC farm. 
I had three key takeaways from some of the speakers. A lot of discussion was had around the implementation of the new technologies on farm. As the technologies mature it is becoming apparent that adoption of the technology is going to be a big hurdle that the industry will need to tackle.

Data and sensors. How do we tell right from wrong?
Jeff Bewley spoke on the implementation of sensors into the management of dairy cows. Just imagine cows covered in sensors. Monitoring cows is one thing, using the data is the other. Jeff described the benefits of monitoring cows which is readily apparent, heat detection, illness detection and behaviour analysis all allow for management of each animal. However as Jeff points out 3 different sensors that all claim to measure the same thing give three different results. The question of repeatability and accuracy is then called into question? Who is right and who is wrong?

Ethics will come into play
With the ability to monitor each individual animal comes an increased level of responsibility. Derek Bailey has been monitoring cattle in the rangelands of the USA and has found that knowing if an animal is unwell poses a bit of a conundrum. Knowing that an animal is sick is useful. Knowing where it is exactly is also useful. Answering the question of how to treat it when it is out on the ranges and whether the cost of treatment outweighs the benefits is a tougher decision. Easier to balance the maths with cattle, but in the case of old wethers the decision becomes decidedly more ethical than commercial.
Derek Bailey and one of their GPS cows.

Satellites to help measure many things.
Wide scale soil moisture measurement has the potential to facilitate highly accurate irrigation scheduling. Istvan Hadju from Massey University presented his findings into the use of satellite based radar to sense the soil moisture in the top of the soil profile. Istvan still has some work to do but utilising the AquaCheck probes he has been able to accurately map soil moisture in approximately the top 7cm of the profile. This work has some exciting implications, including being unaffected by clouds. Perfect for the land of the long white cloud!

Istvan giving his presentation.
Report by Nick 

Wednesday 25 October 2017

Resource Consent Compliance

Resource consent compliance…three words that will generally illicit reactions such as a long sigh, a shuffle of feet, or a desperate look for just about any alternative to this less than exciting aspect of farming. There is a long list of things that need sorting on any farm and compliance management isn’t usually very high on that list.

However, as we all saw in the lead-up to the general election, society's microscope was placed squarely on the agricultural industries. Now more than ever, a higher level of diligence is required and expected to be sure that the correct resource consents are in place for what you are doing and that you are adhering to their content. A she’ll be right attitude won’t cut it and is likely to lead to some quality time with your friendly Regional Council Compliance Officer. The days of getting a consent, stuffing it in the desk draw and forgetting about it are in the distant past.

Let’s take a step back here. What is a resource consent? In essence, it is a licence to do something. In simplistic terms, you want to do “X” and to do “X” you agree to do (or not do) “A, B & C”. If you live in the Canterbury region and have been granted a new resource consent in the last few years, or renewed an existing one, there is a good chance that "A, B & C" has had a good portion of the alphabet added to it and the level of what is required has gone up a notch or two.

Don’t get me wrong, not every condition is onerous, and in fact your everyday on farm management will be ticking the boxes for a lot of conditions. “Don’t discharge effluent to frozen ground.” Done. “Avoid leakage from pipes.” Of course. “Avoid irrigating non-productive land and impermeable surfaces.” No worries, the end gun is programmed to turn off across there.

There are, though, going to be conditions that are less straight forward or just simply not easily remembered. Implementing a program of water quality monitoring on the stream that runs through your property with annual summary reporting isn’t something the average Joe has to deal with very often. And likewise, getting your water meter verified every five years isn’t exactly front of mind for most farmers.

How you deal with these types of conditions will vary according to your situation. For some people, it can all be a bit much at times and a bit of help is needed to tidy it all up.  At Irricon we offer a wraparound service to help out, called Compliance Pro. In the first instance, we can look at your consents to make sure they are right for what you are doing. With the aid of a software package we can store relevant documents and set up reminders for things such as meter verifications and backflow prevention testing. The software package works as project management tool where conditions can be worked through and ticked off so that you can be confident you are front footing your obligations rather than following a visit from the Council Compliance team or a firm letter in the mail. We can implement the work required to undertake and administer such things as water quality monitoring, seepage test or monitor the standing water levels of bores during the off season. We offer varying levels of involvement from help on just a couple of things to becoming the nagging mother you never wanted but always needed.

Ultimately, you have a choice in how you manage your compliance. You can be reactive or proactive. If you are sick of having the Council on your case, if you think you could use a bit of help or want to change the approach you take to your compliance, let us know. We’d love to hear from you. Come over and check us out online at

Thursday 5 October 2017

In the words of Rachel Hunter - it won't happen overnight, but it will happen...

Wasn’t the whole election one big roller coaster?  If we have learnt one this from this whole affair, it is that we are all very passionate about our water resources – not necessarily for the same reasons, but passionate none the less.

Regardless of who ends up running the country (at the time of penning this blog, Winnie was still  courting both the National and Labour parties), I think it is clear that public opinion will ensure that water management and associated policies will be addressed is some way, shape or form by the incoming government.  Given this, I think it is important (and timely) to look back and acknowledge where we have got too in relation to this, but also to look forward at where we can still go.  

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPSFM) and Regional Plans
Most regional councils now either have notified or operative plans which outline their methods for addressing water quantity and water quality.  While no two plans are alike, the NPSFM requires limits are set, therefore, all plans do just that – they set allocation limits for surface and groundwater resources, as well as water quality limits.  It is the latter which takes various forms including property limits and/or catchment limits using Overseer, in stream water quality limits, and the development of the Good Management Practice (GMP) framework.    Many councils have also adopted the use of audited Farm Environment Plans to be able to monitor, measure, report and ensure that farms are meeting their environmental obligations. 

As with anything in life, good things take time.  Councils are in the process of rolling out and implementing these plans now.  The effects will not be immediate, but they need to be given a chance to actually work. 

It must also be remembered that for many areas, it is as much about maintaining the already good water quality that exists – this is not allowed to deteriorate.  For those few areas where improvement is needed, the plans bite much harder, and that it totally appropriate.

The fact that all of this has occurred seems to have been completely overlooked by many, and it’s not just politicians I’m referring too. 

How are we meeting our environmental obligations already?
Figures provided by Irrigation New Zealand show that since 2011:
  • $10 million invested in audited Farm Environment Plans;   
  • $600 million invested by existing irrigators upgrading to modern, efficient irrigation systems;
  • $18 million invested in precision irrigation technologies;
  • $15 million invested in installing irrigation decision-making technologies;
  • More than 24,000 kilometres of our waterways have already been fenced off to exclude stock at a cost of $220 million. 

As we continue to meet our environmental obligations, you can only expect these numbers to increase.  It is noted that this expenditure is all on farm, reinforcing the point that water quality will be addressed at the farm level. 

Looking Forward
Regional Councils need to continue to implement their plans. This may seem like an obvious thing to state, but it’s true nonetheless.  Consistent messages and enforcement from the regulatory bodies will be a must.

I believe that many farmers are on board with GMP (the on-farm practices) despite still being largely ignorant or merely confused by the new environmental regulations.  Education is still key to the success of this stuff, and that has to come from all involved – banks, valuers, real estate agents, farm advisors, customers… anybody involved with the farm.  And, many farmers are being innovative and taking up technology where it is available.  You only have to look at the statistics above regarding the investment to date in irrigation upgrades and precision irrigation technologies.  

And last, but not least, time, time, time.  To quote Rachel Hunter from her Pantene ad, “it doesn’t happen overnight, but it will happen”, and it is happening.  Get on board, and keep it up.

 By Keri Johnston, Irricon Resource Solutions
Phone 0272202425 or email

Wednesday 27 September 2017

Stock Exclusion - What's the go?

Out and about recently, Lilian Sherman, our North Island Rural Environmental Specialist, has heard a lot of discussion about the stock exclusion rules coming into play.  Unfortunately, a lot of what she has heard has had a serious dose of the ‘chinese whispers’ and the end result is that there are a lot of myths out there with regards to stock exclusion.  Below, Lilian dispels some of those myths and provides you with some confidence around the rules.

While there is no formal definition, stock exclusion generally means to exclude stock by some means from entering a waterbody.  In most cases, the stock exclusion definition does not include sheep or goats, as sheep and goats do not tend to linger in water!  In most cases the means of achieving stock exclusion is not specified, therefore the best method or technology for each situation can be used.  This may be a permanent fence, a hot wire, or as is currently being developed, virtual fencing.
Why is stock exclusion necessary? Stock entering waterways can cause significant damage by contributing nutrients (primarily nitrogen and phosphorus), sediment and faecal coliforms to our waterways. They do this though the direct deposition of dung and urine into rivers, treading damage and reduction in beneficial vegetation that results from grazing stream banks.

As part of the Clean Water package recently released by the Ministry for the Environment, there are proposed National Rules for Stock Exclusion.  Consultation on the proposed stock exclusion regulations and other aspects of the Clean Water package closed on 28 April 2017. This feedback is being considered and will inform the final decision on the National Rules.  The proposed stock exclusion rules are practical and there are different requirements for different classes of stock and for topography (plains, rolling and steep).  More details are available on the Ministry for the Environment Website (

The proposed National Rules for Stock Exclusion recognise that for some landowners, there may be significant practical constraints that mean they are unable to meet the new requirements. In those cases, landowners can apply for permission to instead develop a stock exclusion plan with their regional council. The plan may include alternatives to fencing or mitigations to reduce the impact of stock access to waterways.  An example of this would be providing alternative areas of shade and reticulated stock drinking water, which may also provide other economic and animal health benefits.

It is important to note that the National Rules for Stock Exclusion will form the minimum requirements, and councils may choose to regulate over and above these in their regional plans.

There are some challenges excluding stock from waterways, including the effects of flooding, the proliferation of weeds and pests and access through vegetation to waterbodies.  These are valid issues and I have confidence that farmers will find practical solutions for these as the rules come into play.

In the meantime, if you are putting in new fence line or carrying out fencing maintenance, consider whether there is an opportunity to make a change to a fence line to exclude stock or make it easier to exclude stock in the future, but its also an important consideration for any development on farm such as irrigation (whether new or upgrading) and the location of waterways should be a key consideration in any design being undertaken. 

Keep an eye out for the final versions of the National Stock Exclusion Rules.

Lilian Sherman, Irricon Resource Solutions Limited.
Phone: (021) 378 308

Lilian is a Rural Environmental Specialist and Director at Irricon Resource Solutions, who works with farmers and horticulturists to prepare farm environment plans, resource consent applications and to assist with nutrient management and Overseer modelling. 

Lilian grew up on and lives on a sheep and beef farm, she has a practical knowledge of farming, including sheep, beef, deer, dairy, cropping and horticulture and combines her passion for farming with a wealth of nutrient management and environmental expertise in this role.

Monday 18 September 2017

Tips, Tools and Technology for Efficient Farming - Part 1

During winter the H2Grow team ran a series of workshops throughout the South Island titled ‘Tips, Tools and Technology for Efficient Farming’. These workshops were very well attended and the team thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone and the wide-ranging discussions that were had.

For those that were unable to attend we do not want you to miss out, so over the next few blog posts we will be posting notes of the key messages from each of the presentations. These are only condensed versions of the main points so if you would like further information or have any questions then please do feel free to contact the contributors directly by either clicking on the photo widgets to the right of this blog, or use the links provided.

The first set of presentation notes briefly cover the following topics:
  1. Why should we care about farming efficiently?
    • Nutrient management - why are we doing this?
    • Irrigation and nutrient management - how to they fit together?
  2. Soil moisture and water use efficiency
You will see there are two copies of the notes, one for Canterbury and the other for Otago as the notes relating to the regulations between these two areas differs.

Both topics were presented by Irricon Resource Solutions, so for more information please fee free to contact Keri Johnston or a member of the Irricon Team.

Friday 11 August 2017

The irrigation season is just around the corner…

With the days getting longer and the weather getting warmer (I’m sure it’s too good to be true!) spring growth will soon be kicking into gear and irrigation season will be just around the corner. Now is the time to be ensuring that you’re as prepared as you can be for the irrigation season.

If you’re an irrigated farmer now is the time to be thinking about how you’re going to schedule your irrigation throughout the upcoming season. The days of scuffing the dirt with your boot and having a dig with a spade are fast coming to their end with the need for on-farm soil moisture monitors such as the AquaCheck probe, to give some more accurate numbers to the soil moisture levels than a scuff of your boot on the soil. Having soil moisture probes installed on farm not only helps you make better irrigation decisions but it also gives you some hard and fast data to have when it comes to Farm Environment Plan (or the likes) auditing.

Soil moisture probes for use this coming season should be being installed now or over the next few weeks ideally. All continuous soil moisture measurement devices take a period of a few weeks to ‘settle down’ and give accurate readings post installation.

At Agri Optics we have a great soil moisture probe in the AquaCheck probe as part of our suite.

The key things to note on these probes compared others (other than their great price) are as follows:
·         They’re fully telemetered, giving you access to view up-to-date soil moisture data and make timely decisions based on current, actual data
·         They’re a vertical oriented probe that has multiple soil moisture sensors down their length, giving you a total soil moisture trace and soil moisture traces at each different sensor depth. This means that you can see how the soil moisture moves down through the soil profile and how effective you’re being with your irrigation management. The bottom sensor is also a good ‘check’ for drainage leaving the root zone
·         The AquaCheck probe has built-in soil temperature sensors – a good gauge to be able to better manage irrigation and fertiliser timings in the shoulders of the season in particular
·         They have the option of connecting to rain gauges to give accurate records of rainfall and irrigation at each soil moisture probe site
·         They have a short ‘settling’ time post install compared to most of their competitors, meaning that you’ll get useful data to make decisions off in a short time frame
·         They’re easy to install and uninstall, making them great for seasonal cropping situations
·         They’re very competitively priced
·         There are multiple depth option so that the depth of the probe installed can be matched to your farming system and requirements
·         In NZ they’ve got Agri Optics behind them, to help you, the farmer understand and interpret soil moisture readings and get the most out of soil moisture probes for irrigation scheduling

You can also view more information on the AquaCheck probes on our website:

If you’re interested in the AquaCheck probes or need a soil moisture solution for this season please don’t hesitate to contact one of the Agri Optics Team for some more information and a quote.  

All the best for an upcoming irrigation season & year ahead!


Wednesday 12 July 2017

The Ultimate Add-On for Cost Efficient Irrigation

Growsmart Precision VRI with FieldNET is the ultimate add-on for easy and cost efficient irrigation, Maniototo sheep and beef farmer Hamish Mackenzie says.

“It’s simple, easy to use and gives you heaps of flexibility. I can sort and upload a watering plan and set it going at the push of a button,” Hamish says.

Hamish Mackenzie uses Growsmart Precision VRI to apply the right amount of water, in the right place at the right time at Kyeburn Station
At Kyeburn Station, an extensive 3300ha sheep and beef property, 260ha of flats are irrigated. Half the area is watered by a 570 meter Zimmatic centre-pivot. It was installed with Growsmart Precision VRI in 2015 and in November 2016 was upgraded with FieldNET, a remote communication tool making it possible to control Growsmart Precision VRI from any internet-capable device. The limited cell phone coverage means Hamish is not set up for complete remote control but FieldNET has given him greater flexibility over irrigation. And he says the new updated system is far superior to its predecessor.

“I do all of my irrigation plans on the home computer. If we had reliable cell phone coverage I’d be able to send them remotely to the pivot but because we don’t I put them on a memory stick which I then plug into the pivot panel of the irrigator. It’s really simple and straightforward.”

The touchscreen panel allows farmers to easily make changes to irrigation plans out in the field.
This season the pivot watered 37ha of Relish red clover-based pasture; 28ha of lucerne; 12ha of barley; 17ha of swedes; and 7ha fodder beet. The patchwork of different crops, each with different watering requirements throughout the season could have made irrigation planning and management a headache. But the combination of Growsmart VRI and FieldNET made it surprisingly straightforward.

“You can add in as many different fields as needed, and alter the watering rates on each or keep them out of the rotation as required. That’s the beauty of VRI and FieldNET, it’s so easy to alter things.”
Installation of FieldNET was about $1,000 on top of the Growsmart VRI but he reckons he’s easily recouped the cost – and saved water. Efficient use of water is a number one priority given the region’s 500mm annual rainfall and extended summer dry periods.  Water is taken from the Kyeburn River, from a main race which Hamish shares with four farms. He has a 52l/s allocation but over the last year the combination of Growsmart Precision VRI and FieldNET has reduced pivot water use to about 43l/s.

“I’ve been able to cut back the percentage flow through the pivot in summer and we’ve been able to use the extra if needed for k-line irrigation. Also we’ve saved money because we’re not having to pump as much water and we don’t need as much pressure.”

Irrigation development at Kyeburn Station started after completion of tenure review in 2009.
“We surrendered 4700ha of hill country to the Crown in 2009 so we had to intensify what we were doing.”

The goal was to maintain the same number of stock units by ramping up production on flat country. They purchased some neighbouring land that was irrigated, and added another 100ha pivot. There is now 260ha under irrigation, of that 180ha is covered by two Zimmatic pivots, one of which has Growsmart Precision VRI and FieldNET.

“I will sometime in the future retro fit the older Zimmatic pivot with Growsmart Precision VRI as well. I think it’s really important given the push by regional councils to encourage farmers to use less water and become smarter with how they irrigate.”

Lindsay NZ

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

Monday 27 March 2017

Nutrients - Why do we care?


Now that we have had a quick look at Overseer and Farm Environmental Plans, it is timely to take a step back and ask the question “why do we care about nutrient losses from farms anyway?”  But you also need to know how they get into our waterways, and where they come from in the first place.   This is my simple take on a number of complex and interactive cycles, but at the end of the day, we’re not all scientists, so I hope this helps put some context around why we are where we are today.

What do we care about?

Farming contributes four main pollutants to the environment: the nutrients nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P), sediment, and faecal matter. So why do we care about these?

  • Nutrient (N and P) enrichment of rivers, streams and other waterways can lead to unwanted growth of plants (waterweeds and algae), and this can be toxic to fish, but also other animals (think back to articles about dogs drinking river water and dying), and it’s not so good for humans either.   
  • Excess sediment may cause siltation (which means that fish and aquatic plants get smothered), and degrade water clarity (makes it look dirty all the time!). 
  • Faecal matter and its associated pathogens pose a risk to human and animal health through waterborne infectious diseases. 

How do they end up in our waterways?

N enters our rivers, streams and other waterways via leaching to groundwater.  Whereas sediment, faecal matter and P enter streams mostly in surface runoff. These two distinctions are important.

What are the on farm sources of these nutrients?

N comes primarily from urine patches.  P is primarily from P based fertilizer, solid animal excrement or stock having direct access to stream and other waterways.

Sediment and faecal matter is also from stock having direct access to streams, and run-off straight into waterways.

So, let’s put some context around this.  

We will take a farm which does dairy support from May to May.  Using Overseer, N and P losses can be determined.  The following table shows the outputs from this farm, using exactly the same inputs, but for varying topography and soil type.

Soil Type and Topography
N lost to water (leaching into groundwater) (kg per ha per year)
P lost to water (runoff)(kg per ha per year)
Light, free draining Lismore soil, flat land
Light, free draining Lismore soil, steep hill
Heavy, poorly drained Timaru soil, flat land
Heavy, poorly drained Timaru soil, steep hill

Thinking about how nutrients get into our waterways, the Overseer results confirm two things:  The first is that P losses are higher on steep land as opposed to the same farm on flat land.  The second is that N is more affected by soil type than topography – you get more leaching to groundwater in free draining soils as opposed to heavy, poorly drained soils.

The other thing you will notice is that N losses are much bigger numbers than P losses, but any small increase in either number can have a big impact on waterways – it is generally many small increases that create a big problem – death by 1,000 cuts!

Therefore, when we are looking at how we manage nutrient losses on our farms, understanding the source of the nutrients, and how nutrients get into our waterways is critical.  Looking at possible mitigation options will be next time’s topic.

By Keri Johnston, Irricon Resource Solutions Limited.

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.

Phone: (027) 2202425