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 ben@irricon.co.nz