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