Precision Ag in New Zealand is finally starting to gain a bit of traction.
On Friday 18 March the Precision Ag Association of NZ (PAANZ) ran their first conference with a number of attendees coming from far and wide to attend & learn about Precision Ag.
The event was well-run with some thought provoking topics and speakers - a credit to the conference organising committee.
Inaugural PAANZ Conference Overview
Andy Macfarlane kicked the conference off with a general overview of NZ Ag and where we’re at in terms of water, nutrients and farming within limits. One of the key points from his presentation was that “Good Management Practice (GMP) is a given – everyone needs to get there NOW!”
GMP will evolve and is not a fixed point.
‘Good’ will also not be good enough. Farmers will need to be ‘great’ to keep ahead of the game and ensure long term farm viability. Precision Ag is going to be integral in achieving this.
N leaching is a hot topic of discussion in our industry. Below are some key principles identified at the conference for mitigating N leaching:
- Measure before you apply – you need to know what you’re dealing with so you can make the right input decision.
- Use nitrogen (& water) interceptors – roots, different crops etc.
- Smaller and often applications are better than large amounts and less often.
- Do not put nutrients where you don’t need them (use targeted application technology – Precision Ag.)
- Apply less urine or less nitrogen concentration in urine.
- Increase nitrogen utilisation in gut to decrease output of nitrogen.
- Less water drained = less nitrogen leached.
- Integrated farm systems approach required to achieve long term desired outcome.
- Validation of science needed both at research level and on farm.
Keith Cameron, Professor of Soil Science at Lincoln University, posed a sound point. Irrigation, even though it might be controversial in some areas and require better management, it allows increased N uptake, as plants are actively growing and not under stress. Therefore, less leaching of nitrogen results.
Is there a case for environmental irrigation? Especially in summer dry areas?
He also pointed out that we need to look at plant uptake as a mitigation strategy for decreasing nitrogen leaching. Catch crops following/during winter grazing is likely a good way to achieve this and studies have shown this can help by between 20-40%.
While we all know that nitrogen itself is a key part to the nitrogen leaching discussion, in irrigated Canterbury and other parts of the South Island managing soil moisture is key to effective nitrogen management.
Dr Tony Davoren from HydroServices spoke on this topic and highlighted the following:
- Measuring and understanding your soil moisture is key to good irrigation management and reduced leaching.
- Expert management of irrigation can lead to no drainage (just the right amount of water is applied hence no to minimal leaching) from centre pivot irrigators throughout the growing season – the same can’t be said of other irrigation systems with high application rates in particular.
- You need to measure soil moisture at and below the root zone. Firstly to understand your plants requirements, and secondly to know and be able to prove that you aren't leaching and wasting water.
- It’s also important to measure soil temperature as this is a factor when scheduling irrigation and brings in the ‘farm systems approach’ by looking at multiple factors, which Andy mentioned in his presentation.
The main focus of the day was looking at how nitrogen leaching could be reduced using Precision Ag (PA) techniques and there wasn't a lot of emphasis on other areas. However, some other areas were lightly touched on.
These included Ian Yule (Massey University) talking about the economic impact of poor spreading patterns and that it could cost a farmer on average $45/ha if his spreading CV was at 20%. However, CV was likely to be nearer 30% when out in the field. At costs like this we obviously need to get our spread pattern accurate before we start doing variable rate fertiliser.
Accuracy is key to everything in Precision Ag.
The benefits of ‘All Paddock Soil Testing’ was highlighted for reducing paddock to paddock nutrient variation and pushing pasture yield along on dairy farms.
There were a vast array of topics covered during the day, stretching further than just nitrogen leaching and it was truly encouraging to see such a good attendance of interested people to this inaugural event, as well as the robust debates and discussion that went along with it. It’s truly heartening to see NZ farmers and industry, pushing the boundaries and meeting NZ farming targets using tools and technologies that are already available to them.
The future is very bright for NZ Agriculture. Coupled with all the emerging technologies and the supporting science I feel very encouraged about the position of the New Zealand farmer. Now to get everyone dipping their toe into the water that is Precision Ag!
Guest blogger Jemma studied Agriculture at Lincoln University and Colorado State University and with a strong interest in Precision Agriculture, co-founded Agri Optics NZ Ltd where she is now the Operations Manager and provides Precision Ag services and support to NZ farmers.