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