Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Celebrating 10 years of Irrigation Innovation

It’s a classic story of Kiwi innovation.

One summer’s evening in 2004, two Massey University engineering graduates, Stu Bradbury and George Ricketts were working a summer job assembling irrigators on the South Wairarapa farm of Brian and Jo Bosch. 

Over a cuppa, Stu, George and Brian discussed the challenges on the Bosch’s farm caused by the limitations of the existing pivot irrigation system.

“Where the pivot went over the races was wet and mucky,” says Brian.  “We were also getting a number of lame cows, who got wet feet and bruising on the muddy race.”

Brian Bosch on his Wairarapa dairy farm
Blanket irrigation was the problem. They needed a way of irrigating specific areas that needed it but keeping vulnerable parts such as the race dry.

Back then nothing on the market could manage the water flow in targeted and controlled quantities, to specific parts of the farm depending on topography and soil type.

“We saw wet areas where crops weren’t growing, and dry areas without much water. So there was an obvious need for a system to specify where you needed water and how much,” says Stu.

Before long George had the solution and in 2006 they began developing the prototype that would become Precision VRI. VRI stands for variable rate irrigation, ensuring precise amounts of water or nutrients are delivered over multiple crops, soil types and terrains.

To make best use of the technology on paddocks with variable soil types and terrain electromagnetic (EM) soil mapping is recommended. EM mapping measures soil conductivity which is an indicator of soil texture (along with other characteristics) and therefore soil water holding capacity. The Precision VRI system can be easily programmed using the FieldNET app to customise irrigation according to the EM map.

The system can be used to ensure that only the areas that need water, get water, and at the right levels.

Over the past decade Precision VRI has enabled New Zealand’s farmers, food producers and agricultural contractors to achieve better results, driving efficiencies and saving money – to the benefit of agribusiness, not only for dairying, but in sheep, beef, horticulture and arable farming.

In 2011 global agribusiness leader Lindsay Corporation acquired the NZ company WMC Technology Ltd under which the Precision VRI technology was developed. Through doing so the not only gained the rights to market the award-winning technology but also provided significant backing for George, Stu and the team to continue developing irrigation solutions.

From the archives: George and Stu at a farm mapping job in 2010 (above). Stu, George and Paul (below) receiving the Supreme Award at the Manawatu Business Awards 2010, WMC Technology Ltd also won the Innovation Award and the Workplace Health and Safety Award.

“We are working on new iterations of the software,” says Stu.

“Now, everything needs to be mobile-friendly so that is where our efforts are focused.”

Future plans to market the system internationally will give farmers world-wide the advantages experienced by New Zealand farmers using the system.

To find out more about the Growsmart Precision VRI system call 0800 438 627 or visit

Monday, 26 November 2018

New, Improved (and now award-winning) Irrigation Remote Management

Lindsay Corporation, global leaders in the development of innovative irrigation solutions, are keeping farmers ahead of the game with the latest enhancements to their FieldNET® mobile app. Available on Apple App Store® and Google Play™, the app is now more user-friendly with improved access, visibility and control of center pivots and lateral irrigation systems. Advancements to the variable rate irrigation control functions also make managing Growsmart Precision VRI systems even easier.  

The new app has been selected as an AE50 Award winner for 2019. Presented by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, the award recognizes the year's most innovative designs in engineering products or systems for the food and agriculture industries.

The technology offers seamless remote monitoring and control, integrating a farmer’s irrigation tools and systems. It is compatible with almost any electric pivot brand and delivers real-time information so farmers can see exactly what their systems are doing and control them quickly and easily from a smartphone, tablet or computer.

Key features and new, real-time functionalities now available via the FieldNET mobile app include:

  • The ability to enable/disable auto-restart and auto-reverse
  • End gun controls including aerial views
  • The ability to shut down multiple pivots simultaneously
  • Displays time remaining for current circle or until the next stop
  • An integrated pivot and VRI control dashboard
  • VRI plan previews overlaying satellite imagery
  • Increased VRI plan editing options
  • Live VRI system status data
“The new app delivers many new features and enhancements to FieldNET customers, several of which come in response to past customer requests,” said Reece Andrews, director of FieldNET and Zimmatic controls at Lindsay Corporation. “The new FieldNET mobile app has an extremely intuitive and fast user interface, offering an enhanced level of mobility and precision that growers won’t find with other remote irrigation management solutions.”

FieldNET is one of the most cost-effective remote irrigation management tools on the market. Lindsay’s commitment to developing innovative irrigation solutions ensures farmers can stay ahead of the game by having more timely, useful information to aid decision-making, making the most effective use of time managing their irrigation, minimising the need to visit the pivot and improving water and energy use. 

For more information about FieldNET, talk to your local Zimmatic dealer or visit 

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Ashburton A&P Show

Agri Optics showcased their services at the 141st annual A&P show in Ashburton on the 26th and 27th October, to catch up with existing clients and field enquiries from prospective clients. Despite the torrential rain while setting up on the Thursday, the show days themselves were thankfully a great deal better. I thought I’d write a blog about the sort of questions the team were answering as a point of interest to those who weren’t able to make it.

Picture 1: Nick Evans and Lucy Murray on a muddy Friday morning after finishing set up!
The theme of this year’s show was chosen by the President David Butterick and was “Irrigation – the life blood of mid Canterbury” – this is a great fit for Agri Optics’ services and solutions. It was also the topic we fielded most enquiries about!

Picture 2 & 3: The team answering clients enquiries.

There was much interest in EM surveying and how it can be used for variable rate irrigation to make better use of water, as well as a helping make more informed decisions on where to place your moisture probes.  We had people enquire about using their EM maps and VRI to conserve water and use that water elsewhere on the farm with potentially large savings to be made by not having to buy more water shares.

Picture 4 & 5: Areas of most discussion EM surveying and AquaCheck moisture probes!

The main point of discussion however was about moisture probes; from looking at the different options available to the different telemetry types and other sensors that can be added to the systems. From weather stations to milk vat monitoring to comply with the MPI Milk Cooling legislation that came into force in June 2018.

We ran many clients through their AquaCheck graphs and explained what they were seeing, things to avoid like getting spikes going through all the profile layers and how much water to put on and where the moisture trace should be sitting at different times of the year, which was very similar to the workshops we ran a couple of months ago. If you are unsure of what your AquaCheck Web graphs are telling you then please get in touch and we can help run you through the data, or if we are in your area we are happy to come and see you to go through it all. So just get in touch as making informed decisions is of paramount importance.

We will be at the Innovation Vineyard field day in Blenheim, which is run by the Marlborough Grape Growers Cooperative on the 14th November, the NZ Effluent expo at Mystery Creek on the 27-28 November, and at the FAR Crops event in Chertsey on 5th December. We look forward to catching up at one of these or other events in the coming months.

Agri Optics

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Is your irrigator due for a service?

Regular maintenance, just like servicing your car, will help ensure your irrigation system is running at full capacity when the heat comes on. Irrigation system checks and servicing should be undertaken at scheduled times over the irrigation season (the more hours your irrigator runs for the more regularly these checks should be carried out). 

In many cases you can refer to your irrigation systems instruction manual for details on servicing and maintenance checks.

Many simple checks and servicing like lubricating joints, replacing oil in gearboxes and looking for signs of fatigue can often be carried out by farm staff. However, should you be unsure or think that you might have detected an issue don’t hesitate to contact your irrigation dealer. 

Grafton Irrigation (Zimmatic dealer based in South Canterbury) have put together a handy checklist to guide you through the checks and maintenance that will help prevent mid-season issues. The checklist covers your intake, pump shed and mainline, and pivot, hard hose, soft hose, K-line and G-set (solid set) type irrigation systems. Print yourself a copy using the link below.

This post has been written by Sarah Elliot from Lindsay NZ - thanks to Grafton Irrigation for your input!

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Irrigation Evaluations (aka Bucket Testing) - Including tips for testing VRI systems

Spring is here but we are seeing all four seasons rolled into one some weeks which is not an anomaly. The soil moisture levels in our region have had a healthy boost in the last few days but if the media reports are true we may be in for a dry summer - please don't shoot the messenger, I'm only relaying what I have heard.

Should this transpire then that is even more reason to ensure that our irrigation systems are applying water as efficiently as possible so that we are maximising the amount of water applied that is available for plants to grow. An irrigation evaluation is a way to assess the efficiency and distribution uniformity of your irrigation system to ensure it is performing as expected.

An irrigation evaluation will help identify causes of any poor performance and (sometimes with the assistance of a qualified professional) show how these can be resolved. Increasing irrigation effectiveness and efficiency will allow you to grow more for less.

An irrigation evaluation (often referred to as a bucket test) is simple enough to carry out yourself, there are several good guides freely available to walk you through this process. For more information check out:

IrrigationNZ - Bucket Testing Resources
DairyNZ - Irrigation Evaluation Guide

The guides recommended above will walk you through how to carry out a standard bucket test however before you begin you need to consider any additional technologies that enhance your irrigation system. For instance if your system has variable rate irrigation (VRI) technology then you will need to take this into account when planning your bucket test. Lindsay NZ, the developers of the Growsmart Precision VRI system, have created a step-by-step guide that explain these additional considerations in more detail.

Growsmart Precision VRI - Bucket Testing Tip Card

If you are not in favour of the DIY irrigation evaluation option then consider contacting an accredited evaluator, this would also be recommended if your own test identifies potential issues that warrant further investigation. If you have additional technology such as a VRI system then ensure that whoever is carrying out the test is aware of this and that they carry out the recommended additional steps. If you need further help then contact your irrigation dealer, many dealers also have accredited evaluators on hand.

Irrigation system checks and maintenance should be undertaken at scheduled times over the irrigation season (the more hours your irrigator runs for the more regularly these checks should be carried out). Recommended irrigation system maintenance will be covered in more detail in the next H2Grow blog post, this will include a checklist that you can download and print off to help you with this task.

Keep an eye out for the next post or subscribe by entering your email in the box to the top right of the screen to ensure that you don't miss it!

Today's blog was written by Sarah Elliot from Lindsay NZ - I hope you have found it useful!

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Key Learnings from the IrrigationNZ Study Tour to Nebraska

I was part of a 24-person group who went to Nebraska at the start of September 2018.  The tour was organised by IrrigationNZ and was an amazing opportunity to go and see how another part of the world deals with the same issues that we have here.  Below is an overview of my key learnings from the tour.  

Governance of Water
The governance of water in Nebraska is complex. There is Federal legislation, such as the
Endangered Species Act, which the state has to abide by. Alongside this there are also Federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Reclamation that control most of the surface water through storage and diversion infrastructure. The state then sets its own laws around how it will manage its water.

In Nebraska the surface water is manged at state level by the Department of Natural Resources, but groundwater is managed by Natural Resource District’s (NRD) at a local level. For a number of surface water bodies, there are also interstate pacts that determine how much water must remain in the river to reach downstream states.

The NRD’s have a Board that is democratically elected, and are often dominated by rural people including farmers. Despite this, the farmer representatives have been proactive in driving practical change among their peers.  

The NRD system in Nebraska has been very successful in managing groundwater. All takes are controlled through a well permit system that allows for a given number of hectares to be irrigated per well.

Both of the NRD’s that we visited had invested heavily in science to help them better understand their resource. They also look for solutions as both a farm and catchment level, the latter including raising capital to build environmental infrastructure such as that required for augmentation projects.  

Conjunctive Management
‘Conjunctive management’ is a recent development in Nebraska that has largely come about through the management of ground and surface water takes in ‘conjunction’ to achieve interstate pacts. This has involved the NRD’s (the managers of the groundwater) working closely with irrigation districts and the Department of Natural Resources to ensure downstream flows are achieved.

This has included restriction of individual water takes (wells) – controlling any new ones, limiting the irrigated area from existing ones and in some cases placing a seasonal limit on usage. Alongside the implementation of environmental infrastructure such as Managed Aquifer Recharge and Stream Augmentation projects.

Managing Water Quality
Nitrates in groundwater are of significant concern in the heavily irrigated districts of central Nebraska. In some areas over 50% of the land is now under irrigated crop-farming. Historic poor nutrient management (type and timing) and poor irrigation practice resulted in nitrate concentrations being frequently observed over 30ppm – well over the US drinking water standard of 10ppm.

However, in recent years there has been a significant declining trend, with relatively few areas now exceeding 20ppm. This has largely been brought about by a non-regulatory approach.

State law requires the production of water quality and quantity management plans that identify the issues and then require the development of an implementation plan to address them. All the NRD’s have a rule framework, but most of the rules are currently focused on managing water takes and farming practice reporting. Incentives, knowledge and enabling peer to peer learning in combination with environmental infrastructure is currently seen as the way forward for water quality.

The widespread move from surface flood to centre pivot irrigation has been instrumental in reducing nitrate losses to groundwater. This has enabled soils to be irrigated on an ‘as and when’ basis to minimise nitrate leaching. There is now also a push towards the more widespread adoption of fertigation, as it allows ‘as and when’ nutrient applications – significantly reducing the risk of leaching from rainfall events.

Public perception
Despite the widespread use of intensive farming methods, and the water quality and quantity challenges facing Nebraska, the one issue currently not facing farmers at the state level is pressure from the anti-farming lobby or environmental groups.

Of the almost 2 million people living in Nebraska, the majority understand the role of crop farming and ranching in providing for their social-economic well-being. The Nebraskan economy is based on the irrigation of almost 4 million hectares of corn and soy beans and this is widely understood. 

The University of Nebraska research and extension service runs an outreach programme to attract the next generation to agriculture. This currently interacts with one in every three school age children in the state, providing an agriculture ‘101’ and highlighting the exciting career opportunities that exist within it.

Keri Johnston, Irricon
Natural Resources Engineer

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

It's starting to get dry...

Other than this slightly cooler snap we've had over the last couple of days you'd have to say spring is well and truly here! And with these nor-west winds (in Canterbury anyway) and warmer days things are starting to dry out and there's not much rain on the horizon. The seasonal weather outlook from NIWA suggests that we're in for a dryer than average season in most places ( and at this point I'd have to say they're about on the money. 

The joys of being a farmer or in the ag industry is that everything you do hinges on the weather, so we get really good (for the most-part) at managing timings and inputs and reading the signs to optimise what we do on farm. Now is no different. Whether you're an irrigated farmer or a dryland one now is the time to be installing your soil moisture probes if you haven't done so already so that you can accurately measure and manage your soil moisture and timings of related inputs on farm. 

Soil moisture probes allow you to know whats going on under your feet and make accurate and timely decisions to set yourself, your farm, your crops and your livestock up to perform to the best of their ability for the coming season. Soil moisture is one of the key drivers for plant growth so it's important that we know where we're currently sitting in terms of soil moisture levels so we can react to it accordingly. Decisions around fertiliser (and other input) timings, timing and amount of irrigation, stock carrying-capacity decisions etc can all be driven by more accurate information regarding soil moisture levels. 

If you want to find out more about some of the leading soil moisture probes in the NZ market have a look here: 

And if you're wanting to get some installed for the coming season please pick up the phone and give the Agri Optics team a call now before you run out of time and you're left carrying a spade in the back of your ute or ruining the tip of your good pocket knife for the upcoming summer. 

All the best for an upcoming and prosperous season ahead! 


Monday, 10 September 2018

The Irrigation, Grazing Game - Digging Deeper

Following on from last week our guest contributor Nicole Mesman digs a little deeper into the findings from her research that looked at the effect of grazing and irrigation on soil porosity.

Soil natural capital and soil health may seem like unnecessary concepts, names that you already know the meaning of without having to learn them. However I will outline them briefly and how they relate to my findings so that you are, in turn, able to relate to them if you come across them in environmental plans, legislation or elsewhere in the future.

Soils are referred to as a stock of properties or natural capital which yield a flow of valuable ecosystem goods or services into the future. Both soil health/ quality and natural capital are similar in that they use soil indicators and parameters to determine the state or function of a soil system. However soil natural capital provides a more holistic analysis of the resource as it takes into account not only the state of the soil itself (through soil indicators) but also the effect of this state on the products and services that soils provide and the human needs that are catered for by soils.

In the soil natural capital framework macroporosity is identified as the key physical attribute. This is because macroporosity determines: water flow, solute transport and drainage through soil. As a result macroporosity influences ecosystem services such as flood mitigation and filtering of nutrients. Macroporosity and associated soil physical properties provide important services and it is important for land managers to be aware of the potential to change these properties and the ecosystem services they provide.

Research has been carried out to determine the effect of land use practices on other soil physical properties such as bulk density, aggregate stability, soil carbon and water holding capacity however macroporosity remains the main indicator of soil physical natural capital and health because of its sensitivity to intensification.

My research found that on average for the 0-30 cm increment macroporosity was significantly lower on the Dairy site (9 ± 1%) than both the Sheep farm (19 ± 1%) and the Control site (15 ± 1%). This suggests that intensification is having a significant effect on the Dairy site. Furthermore on the Dairy site the 0-10 cm and 10-20 cm depth increments both have values for macroporosity < 10%. Other researchers have proposed that macroporosity values of > 10% are needed to maintain pasture production near optimum.

Target ranges for macroporosity are given in Table 1 as part of the National Soil Quality Indicator Programme. Here, for soils under pasture, macroporosity values < 8% are considered low and could restrict pasture growth. Macroporosity for the 10-20 cm depth increment on the Dairy site was 7 ± 1%, a level where less than optimum production could be expected. Results from an AgResearch trial found similar values for and changes of macroporosity with stocking intensity.

Table 1 – target values for macroporosity for pasture, cropping & horticulture and forestry
I did not find any changes in water holding capacity within the plant available range with increasing land use intensification. This result in itself was interesting as it shows that intensifying land use practices did not have a measureable impact on the readily available water (RAW, that available to plants) of the soil. In comparison other studies have found that there is a significant decrease in RAW with irrigation and increased compaction.

Finally my study did find that there was an increase in small micropores holding water at suctions too great for the plant to overcome. These findings all highlight the importance of on farm soil testing to determine the RAW of the specific soil textures and under different land uses to increase management efficiency.

Bulk density values were found to be significantly higher on the Dairy site (1.40 ± 0.02 g cm-3) than both the Sheep farm (1.26 gcm-3± 0.02) and the Control site (1.31 ± 0.02 g cm-3), indicating increased compaction on the DF in agreement with macroporosity values. Bulk density is not as sensitive an indicator of compaction as macroporosity and this can be seen by the large target range 0.7–1.4 gcm-3 that has been identified for Pallic soils (Table 2). Therefore it is not recommended as an indicator for determining the effect of land use intensification on soils.
Table 2 – target ranges for bulk density are large indicating that this is not as sensitive an indicator as macroporosity for determining the effect of land use intensification on soils.
Landcare Research has developed a tool which can be used by everyone to determine the quality of their soil based on a number of indicators.

The tool allows you to measure your soil against current understanding of optimal values for: Macroporosity, bulk density, Total N, Total C, Mineraliseable N, pH and Olsen P
It will tell you about the effect each indicator has on soil quality alongside some general management practices that can be used to improve your soil.

In addition to thinking about the effect of these indicators on your soil quality I encourage you to take a step back and also think about the long term effect of the state of these indicators/ properties on your farm’s functions and the importance of each of these functions to your profitability. 

Thanks to Nicole Mesman (BSc (Hons) Soil Science) for the content of this post!

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

The Irrigation, Grazing Game

In this week’s blog we welcome guest contributor - Nicole Mesman. Nicole achieved honours in soil science through Lincoln University. Her honours project looked at the effect of grazing and irrigation on soil porosity, here she shares what was discovered through this project.

While university projects are often published in journal articles I feel research can sometimes take a long time to make its way to our farmers and end users, those who we are trying to help with this research in the first place. I am very happy that I am able to explain my findings to an audience that might be able to make use of this information.

I wanted to find out what, if any, effect irrigation was having on soil porosity and water holding capacity. From both my findings and the research of others I was able to suggest that a combination of irrigation and cattle grazing led to a decrease in soil macroporosity and those micropores holding water in the range readily available to plants. Also that there is an increase in very small micropores storing water that plants are unable to access.

Macropores are the largest pores, they don’t store water for the plant but provide aeration for the soil, space for root growth and allow water to infiltrate through them to the small micropores that the plant draws water from. Reduction in macropores can result in decreased root and plant growth and an increase in waterlogging and surface run-off as water is unable to infiltrate into the soil and instead pools and runs off the surface.

Macropores allow water to pass quickly through them and are occupied with air unless the soil is waterlogged. Micropores store water for plants to access, some micropores are so small that plants are unable to draw water out of them.
The result of a decrease in micropores is less water held between field capacity and refill point; readily available water for plants. In order to ensure plants have optimum water available to them irrigation volumes should be decreased but made more frequent to ensure neither overwatering or water stress is occurring. Once compaction of soil and decrease of microporosity has occurred it is easier for damage to continue. Soils take longer to dry out after irrigation and subsequent grazing events are more likely to damage the soil again.

When a soil becomes compacted under a combination of irrigation and grazing events the available water decreases as soil particles are compressed together. This means there is less water available to the plant and irrigation volumes should decrease while frequency increases to maintain water content.
If you think you may be seeing the negative effects of decreased macroporosity and microporosity on your property then there are steps you can take to avoid further damage:
  • Soil moisture sensors that are calibrated for your soil type allow you to identify when your different soils require irrigating and mean that you can change your irrigation volumes according to your field capacity. Reduction in micropores may mean that soils retain a higher moisture content for longer and are more susceptible to further damage when grazed. Moisture sensors will also allow you to monitor areas that have been irrigated and determine when moisture content has decreased below field capacity and stock could be moved back to graze the area, avoiding further damage to soil structure. 
  • Decreased macroporosity can be countered by leaving a paddock under pasture, allowing roots and organic matter additions to create structure while using variable rate technology to adapt your irrigation. Irrigation can be altered to avoid areas where decreased macroporosity has resulted in ponding, this can help the area dry out and encourage grass growth.

That’s all for now but please watch this space for my next post where I will tell you about the specifics of my trial, quantify the changes in macroporosity and microporosity that myself and others have measured, explain the role of these properties in soil quality and natural capital and how their importance in this system can be assessed.  

Post by Lindsay NZ, informative content created by Nicole Mesman - BSc (Hons) Soil Science

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Rain gauges – why they're a powerful tool for your operation

Do you know how much rain has fallen on your farm?  Or on your block of land down the road?  Do you sometimes forget to tip out the rain gauge?  Accurate rainfall figures for farm records are becoming more and more important in this age of transparency.  Knowing how much rain fell on any given day on your own farm or on a particular crop will give you the ability to make more accurate decisions.  Telemetered rain gauges save you the hassle of manually reading the rain gauge and provide up to date data straight to your phone or computer. 

Rain gauges can be installed along with your soil moisture probe and positioned under the irrigator or installed in a dryland area.  Positioning the rain gauge under the irrigator enables you to monitor exactly what application depth the irrigator is applying.  Application depths can change as a result of adding extra irrigators to the system, blocked or broken nozzles and changes to system pressures to name a few.  Excessive application depths are expected to account for on average 10% of water losses on an average irrigation system, that’s wasted power, water and most importantly money.  Not applying enough water may result in yield losses and shallow rooted plants.    

A telemetered rain gauge installed under the irrigator will also enable you to see the application rate applied.  If it is above the rates described for your situation in the table below you may be wasting water.  

Agri Optics can add a rain gauge to your soil moisture system to help your decision making.  Ring us today to talk about the options for your farm. 

Agri Optics office: (03) 302 9227
Cindy Lowe 021 796 834 or

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Precision Ag update - a UK & Europe perspective - Part #2

The second part of the CB Norwood’s Precision Ag tour was spent in Europe with machinery companies. First, we visited Vaderstad at Hogstadv√§gen in Sweden, then Lemken in Germany, Horsch in Germany and finally New Holland in Belgium. All these companies looked after us very well, for which we were most grateful.

Arriving in Sweden, the first thing we noticed was how dry it was and how it was reflected in the stressed crops we saw travelling to the Vaderstad factory. The same could be said of the crops we saw in Germany, but to a slightly lesser extent.

Vaderstad showed us a vast range in cultivation and drilling equipment but from a precision ag point view I was most interested in their E system and Seed Eye technology and what it could mean to us in terms of precision seed placement. The sensors installed in each seed tube on the drill form the basis of the V√§derstad SeedEye. This gives the ability to register each seed that is metered and drilling can be controlled down to the exact number of seeds per square metre. 

Figure 1: Vaderstad SeedEye system
Next we went to Germany and visited Lemken, where we looked about their HQ and factory. Again, a lot of cultivation and other equipment but more of the traditional systems with various plough options. However, they too have very accurate seed planting options which would be very useful for precision seeding.

Figure 2: Lemken precision drill seeding system using air pressure
When we got to Horsch we had seen how the other companies worked but I was surprised at the level of trial work and other extensions Horsch were working on and how they were thinking outside the box. They were doing trials on the effect of difference press wheels on root establishment, different row spacing, seed rates and fertiliser rates down the spout. It was a very comprehensive setup and very interesting results.

They ran through their different drilling options including the Avatar with 3 hoppers to put different seed rates and types such as hybrid wheat in different zones plus fertiliser in the third hopper.

Figure 3: The effect of different sowing techniques on root development in Oil Seed Rape

Figure 4: Horsch Avatar drill with 3 hoppers

Figure 5: Trials on seed and fertiliser rates at different row spacing
 All the systems we saw lent themselves well to Precision Ag and accurate seed rates per metre, which can be used in combination with your EM maps, or other sources of spatial data such as yield maps or satellite imagery.

On the second day at Horsch we had a good look around their sprayers and the very impressive pro plus boom system that followed the crop canopy at a height of just 30cm with various nozzle options including 25cm spacing that reduced the effect of wind speed on your spraying window, giving more spray days which is a very useful feature everyone needs.

Figure 6: Top spec nozzle system with 4 nozzles every 50cm and 2 nozzles at 25cm in-between

Figure 7: Off to see the sprayer demos at Horsch
 Michael Horsch also touched on the next stage in their sprayer development, with autonomous machines that sprayed by themselves and the cameras learn the weeds they see in field and can map them. All very exciting and not that far away. High spec sprayers are very useful for variable rate PGR’s (plant growth regulators) or liquid nitrogen for example.

The final company we went to see were New Holland, with their machinery from combines to Foragers. Using their Precision Land Management system on control and measure. Yield maps are the starting point for a lot of people’s journey into Precision Ag.

Figure 8: New Holland combine open for investigation!

If you have any questions or want anymore detail on what we saw, just get in touch. 

On a personal level, it was great to see what machinery is available and what we could do with it in the Precision Ag space and to see that we’re not far behind the northern hemisphere in terms of PA adoption, and in some instances, are actually leading the way.


Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Precision Ag update - a UK & Europe perspective - Part #1

Having just spent most of June in the UK and Europe on a tour organised by CB Norwood, looking into Precision Ag, I thought I’d give an overview of what I saw of interest.

The tour group consisted of a great mix of farmers, contractors, CB Norwood’s managers, from both the South and North Island, Tim Myers (CB Norwood CEO), myself and was run by Paul Collins (CB Norwood Partnership Development Manager) - hats off to him for an excellent job managing the whole event and his team back in NZ.

The first week was spent in the UK, going around farms and visiting the Cereals event near Duxford. There was a real mix of farms from the traditional Estates, to new corporate farms less than 10 years old with huge areas 15,000+ hectares. From the precision ag point of view, it was interesting to see that we are all using the same technologies but for different reasons. EM surveys are used to identify different soil management zones as they are here, but not for irrigation and with little use of the topography data collected at the same time. EM was used for variable intensity of cultivating, and a lot for variable rate seeding. The EM zones are identified and then the soils classified into percentage establishment zones, so then according to your thousand grain seed weight and total population your seed required was automatically adjusted. This combined with using the EM to highlight areas of potentially higher blackgrass burdens - they find much higher levels on heavy soils identified from the EM maps, so they drill at higher seed rates   areas to compete with the blackgrass more. Using variable rate seeding and cultivations the farmers where going far more even looking crops, suppressing the blackgrass marginally more and getting up to 8% increase in yield.

Image 1: Winter wheat VR seed rate from an EM map. 

The EM maps where being used in combination with combine harvester yield maps to create zones for zonal soil sampling rather than grid soil sampling. The advantage there was that you had less samples than grid sampling, so it was cheaper, and you took samples in transects from within each soil zone from the EM map. Most of these farms have no livestock and the fields have been the same size under the same management for a good length of time, which lends itself more to zonal soil sampling.

There was a greater spread use of variable nitrogen from either satellite imagery, drones, N sensor/GreenSeeker type sensors than in New Zealand. The farmers had to use their nitrogen smarter as they had strict limits and timing limitations. This was apparent at the Cereals event on the Yara and Horsch stands to name but two both showing their own real-time sensors.

Image 2: N sensor for real-time VR nitrogen application

Image 3: The Horsch biomass sensor, also for VR N
At Cereals every machinery company seemed to be developing or had its own self propelled sprayer option, from the very basic offering to the other end of the spectrum the Horsch sprayer with its incredible boom technology on the pro plus and nozzle setup, allowing it to follow the crop at a height of just 30cm even on contoured land and almost making it wind proof spraying – with a climate like the UK one, you need to be able to spray at every opportunity you can!

Image 4: The soil pit - a great way to compare root structure in different scenarios

Image 5: There are many different software options in the UK for field inputs and collecting layers of data for smarter farming
It was great to catch up with Jim Wilson and the team from Soil Essentials, one of the few Precision Ag companies who still had a stand at the Cereals Event. The consensus on the Precision Ag front was that there are a lot of interesting and innovative ideas in the pipeline, for growers to use, which is very exciting. 

Image 6: The Soil Essentials team

 All the companies seem to have started from various positions within precision ag but come to the same conclusions on what works best, all of which we are doing here too in New Zealand. Of all the cropping farms there is probably about a 50% uptake in Precision Ag in various forms. Most farms seem to use muck in some form or another to increase organic matter and help with moisture constraints.

The last farm we went to in the UK, was the Beeswax Dyson Farming, owned by the Dyson Company. They had bought over 15,000ha since 2011 and used EM surveys and drones to help them get up to speed on their various soil types to manage them better. They were also heavily involved in environmental schemes like some of the old traditional estates we saw.

Figure 7: Beeswax Dyson Farming, general storage shed

In the next article I will discuss some of the interesting ideas that we came across in Europe. 


Thursday, 5 July 2018

Nutrient Budgets and Farm Environment Plan Auditing

If you live within Canterbury, there is a good chance you have been tied up in the nutrient saga that has come to life in recent years. The environment is a hot topic at the moment and promises not to slow down anytime soon.

A common word bandied around rural communities is Overseer or nutrient budgets (Overseer being the program used to create a nutrient budget). Overseer is constantly being updated to reflect changes in software and science developments.  As I write this, we are currently using Overseer v6.3.0.

In Canterbury, a farm is required to have a baseline nutrient budget which covers the years of 2009 – 2013, which in conjunction with Farm Environment Plans (FEP) often forms the basis for any Land Use Consent to Farm (farming consent) that may be required and a current season nutrient budget using actual farm input data for the most recent season.

Farming consents set a Nitrogen Discharge Allowance (NDA) for a farm, and this figure is not to be exceeded. Farming consents are a way for ECan to draw a line in the sand and monitor nitrogen losses from properties or irrigation schemes to determine how nitrogen losses are tracking. Any farming consent requires auditing of a Farm Environment Plan to be completed within 12 months of granting, then after depending on the grade received (A grade – 3 yearly for an individual farm or 4 yearly for an irrigation scheme, B grade – 2 yearly, C grade – within 12 months, D grade – within 6 months). These audits are carried out by independent (non ECan employed) FEP Auditors who have to audit to  guidelines and templates set by ECan.

Part of the FEP audit includes a section on nutrients, and has two objectives;

                1. To use nutrients efficiently and minimise nutrient losses to water; and

                2. Nutrient losses do not exceed permitted or consented nitrogen limits

For us as auditors to determine this, we must be able to compare ‘apples with apples’ in terms of nutrient budgets. This requires the baseline nutrient budget to have been updated into the most recent version of Overseer (currently v6.3.0) and the most recent season end nutrient budget to have been completed in that same version.

If we are unable to determine if the farm is operating within its NDA, we cannot grade objective 2 very highly which could mean the difference between an A or B grade or a non-complying grade (C or D).

Therefore to ensure your FEP audit grade is not impacted, make sure your baseline nutrient budget has been updated to the most recent version of Overseer, and that you also have a nutrient budget that reflects the most recent season on the farm.

By Ben Howden, Irricon Resource Solutions
Phone 021 242 0023 or email

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Winter Grazing

It always amazes me how quickly time flies – as I write this, we are in June of 2018 already and winter is upon us.

With the onset of winter comes the slowing (or stopping) of pasture growth and the need to supplement feed with crops or imported supplements, so it is timely to discuss winter feed management and the environmental perils associated with feeding winter crops and supplements.

It’s a hard road finding the perfect paddock to plant your crops in, if the soil is too heavy the chances of pugging and the loss of soil and faecal matter is higher and if the soil is too light, the drainage is great but with more drainage comes higher nitrogen leaching, particularly in areas of high rainfall.  Planning ahead and selecting the right paddock or even the right areas within a paddock to grow crops can reduce the environmental risk.
There is a lot of information about good practice for feeding winter crops available, but as for any farming practice there is no one size fits all and it is a matter of taking those good practices that apply to your situation and putting them in place.  The key issues with the intensive grazing of stock over winter are the loss of soil and faecal matter through run off into water ways and the leaching of nitrogen into groundwater from intensive stocking. 

Any management practices that can be implemented to reduce run off into waterways are beneficial, this can help to reduce the soil/ sediment and faecal contamination of waterways.  These include grass strips or margins not planted in crops alongside waterways and planning the direction of cultivation so that it doesn’t lead to a flow path into a waterway carrying contamination with it.
Planning ahead and having a back up option such as taking the animals off the crop, allowing animals access to another paddock or grazing for only a few hours can make all the difference when the weather is too wet for intensive grazing.  Troughs and supplementary feed can be placed strategically so that pugging is minimised in these areas and so that if there is pugging it won’t run off into a waterway.

Some regional plans include rules with regards to the wintering of stock including requirements for intensively grazed stock and stock on winter crops to be excluded from waterbodies.   There may also be rules around standoff areas and feedpads to minimise the environmental impact of these.  In my view these rules constitute the absolute minimum with regards to the good management of stock in winter. 

For information on industry good practice, see the Beef and Lamb website, Deer Industry NZ or the DairyNZ website, in particular the following link provides some useful information which can be applied to beef cattle and deer also -

Post grazing, following the crop with a whole-crop cereal silage crop, before putting the block back into winter crop, can greatly reduce the nitrogen in the soil and therefore, leaching. 

So, with winter already here it is not too late to do some research and plan how you will manage your winter grazing this year.

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