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Precision technology delivers diverse benefits

Sunday, June 19th, 2022

Cust farmer Roscoe Taggart examines his parsnip seed crop which is bound for Europe

Investing in precision agriculture has provided Cust farmer Roscoe Taggart with environmental, social, and financial benefits that help to continuously improve his family’s 730-hectare arable and sheep operation.

Roscoe is participating in a six-month farming innovation project, which examines how the next generation of farmers are using innovative approaches to improve their farming practices. Waimakariri Landcare Trust (WLT) and Waimakariri Irrigation Limited (WIL) have partnered with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) for the project, with support from MPI’s Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund along with Environment Canterbury, Ballance, and DairyNZ.

At the start of the project Roscoe applied variable rate nitrogen fertiliser with nitrogen sensors attached to the roof of his tractor which has proven to be a game changer by applying the precise amount of fertiliser required for each paddock.

Having experienced the benefits of being able to apply variable rate nitrogen in real time, Roscoe has followed this up by grid sampling his farm in blocks to improve the efficiency of spreading fertiliser, while also reducing costs and environmental impacts.

“Traditionally we have done a standard soil test which is a transect across a paddock with about five or six samples. With grid sampling we are taking a sample every hectare and after we put this information into our variable rate spreader, we can spread our fertiliser in a much more educated way.

“This is especially important when you are doing your base application because if you get this right, you will get an even crop, and this has many flow-on effects.”

By applying his fertiliser in such a precise manner Roscoe anticipates growing crops that are more even which will make crop management much easier over the season.

“You will have everything happening at the same time in terms of the growth stages and a more even crop when it is time to harvest.

“Financially you are better off too as it makes your yield more even. You do have to invest more upfront with new technology, but it is well worth it when you consider the long-term benefits.”

The environmental and social benefits of applying the right amount of fertiliser at the correct time are also important to Roscoe.

“One of the biggest things we have got going on now in agriculture is our inputs and leaching. If we use science and technology to apply only what is needed to each paddock, then we are ticking boxes all over the place. Above all else, it is the right thing to do.

“From my perspective we need to prove that we meet the requirements to keep our social licence to operate and it is important to do the right thing on farm for our wider community.”

 

Science and genetics boost Fernside farm

Sunday, June 12th, 2022

Fernside dairy farmer Julie Bradshaw is passionate about the ability of genetics to create the most efficient herd of cows.

 

Fernside dairy farmer Julie Bradshaw has applied learnings from a five-year National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) irrigation study to make science-based decisions while also using genetics to improve her herd with the overall goal of reducing the farm’s environmental footprint.

Julie is participating in a six-month farming innovation project, which examines how the next generation of farmers are using innovative approaches to improve their farming practices. Waimakariri Landcare Trust (WLT) and Waimakariri Irrigation Limited (WIL) have partnered with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) for the project, with support from MPI’s Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund along with Environment Canterbury, Ballance, and DairyNZ.

From 2016 to 2021 Julie and a group of five neighbouring farmers participated in a co-innovation study which provided landowners with real time data and forecasts to make science-based irrigation decisions.

The data included measured rainfall, soil moisture, soil temperature, drainage, and estimated evaporation as well as two, six and 15-day rainfall and weather forecasts.

Julie says the practical study gave each farmer a fantastic insight into their own land and irrigation practices while also providing a broader picture of what was happening in the catchment.

Having access to precise data has helped Julie and her neighbouring farmers to apply exactly the right amount of irrigation and fertiliser at the right time which helps to mitigate environmental impacts.

“It was amazing. We had so much data and information that we had never had before which has helped us make decisions about irrigation and fertiliser used that are backed up by facts and scientific data.

“Having the records also makes it much easier when it comes time for your FEPs and audits. We can show that we have been using our water resource correctly.”

All the farmers involved in the study were able to see each other’s data and this high level of transparency helped the group to understand what was happening in various parts of the catchment.

“We have always been very open. It is just information and data about water and getting to know more about other farms is helpful because we are learning from each other along the way.”

Although the study has ended, Julie still logs in to the group’s website most days to enable her to make accurate decisions about water allocation for the Cust Main Drain Water User’s Group. The group was established 25 years ago to manage water allocation during the irrigation season when water takes are restricted.

“It has been such a bonus to be able to see where everyone is sitting in terms of the moisture on their paddocks as this helps me to allocate the water more accurately to where it is needed. Not only do you see today’s moisture levels but you also get a future reading so you can see where things are heading.”

Last year Julie and her husband Peter received the Sire Proving Scheme Farmers of the Year Award from the Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC). The couple have been working with LIC for 15 years and the award recognised their record keeping and commitment to having their entire herd DNA tested.

“We have a KiwiCross herd which is a cross between Holstein-Friesian and Jersey cows. I am really passionate about the ability of genetics to improve your overall herd quality. Having 99 per cent of the ancestry of the cows recorded is an immense help when doing the breeding.”

Julie believes that improving the overall quality of the herd means that if she needs to reduce her stock levels in the future, she knows exactly which animals have the best genetics to meet future farming limits. She is committed to using science to reduce her impact on local waterways.

“Genetics and DNA testing is so helpful when you think about the possibility of reducing herd numbers in the future. We must think ahead and use science to help us make the best decisions both for our business operation and for the environment.”

Throughout the course of the MPI innovation project Julie would like to learn more about genetics, while also improving the quality of the grass throughout the farm.

“We have three cows that LIC would like a bull calf out of so that will be an interesting process to follow.

“Another challenge is to improve the quality of our grass. With the colder and wetter spring that we had last year, followed by a cloudy and cooler summer our grass didn’t contain enough sugar and energy for the cows. We want to work on that throughout this project.”

Embracing technology and adapting to market demand

Wednesday, February 9th, 2022

Third generation Cust farmer Roscoe Taggart has invested in innovative technology to improve on-farm efficiencies while also trialling a variety of new crops to assess market demand.

 

Cust farmer Roscoe Taggart is a keen adopter of technology and will be trialling the use of variable rate base fertiliser over the coming months to assess improvements in efficiency. He will also evaluate his test crop of vegetable seeds as they reach the end of their two-year trial period.

Roscoe is participating in a six-month farming innovation project, which examines how the next generation of farmers are using innovative approaches to improve their farming practices. Waimakariri Landcare Trust (WLT) and Waimakariri Irrigation Limited (WIL) have partnered with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) for the project, with support from MPI’s Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund along with Environment Canterbury, Ballance, and DairyNZ.

The Taggart family farm is a 730-hectare arable and small-scale sheep operation located between Cust and Oxford. Roscoe’s grandfather bought the original farm in 1958 and it has expanded over the years.

Precision technology is a keen area of interest for Roscoe who is an early adopter of innovative technology.

“We’ve been jumping on board with the precision technology aspect of farming, whether it’s irrigation, spraying, spreading or planting.”

Roscoe has GPS monitoring on his farm machinery and variable rate irrigation on one of his pivots which is coupled with a storage pond for increased water use efficiency.

“Half of the area that the pivot applies water to is heavy peat ground that has had drainage through it and doesn’t require a lot of water. The other half is stony, free draining Balmoral type soil so the pivot is doing 72 litres per second on one side and 22 litres per second out the other side while the pond acts as a buffer.

“It’s very efficient on water which is great.”

This season Roscoe applied variable rate nitrogen fertiliser with nitrogen sensors attached to the roof of his tractor which has proven to be a game changer by applying the precise amount of fertiliser required for each paddock.

“As the tractor moves along it senses the chlorophyll levels of the plants and uses infrared and NDVI (Normalised Difference Vegetative Index) to calculate crop health, and then it adjusts the spread of fertiliser in real time.

“We were previously using satellite imagery and downloading data maps but due to the cloud cover in Canterbury we weren’t getting the efficiency we needed so this was the next step.

“The results have been outstanding. Where we might have spread a total of 320 units per hectare in the past, we are now down to 230 units per hectare, and I hope we can get it down to 200 which is a massive saving for us.”

Over the next six months Roscoe will trial further use of variable rate fertiliser to assess environmental and economic efficiencies.

“We’ll get into variable base rate fertiliser with potassium and phosphorous which we’ll apply in early January and hopefully see the results within the next six to eight months. We’ll do some grid sampling of the farm in blocks first to test it before we apply the fertiliser.”

While the farm’s staple crops include wheat, ryegrass, and oilseed rape along with smaller areas of barley, linseed, peas, and white clover; Roscoe also has 20 percent of the farm in what he refers to as his “Lotto crops”.

“We take more of a risk with these ones. This year we have radish, carrot, parsnip, corn salad, beetroot, Pak choi, and spinach. We will review them at the end of the growing season to see if we want to continue with them next year or to change them.”

Another change on Roscoe’s farm this year is moving away from breeding ewes in favour of trading lambs. Roscoe says trading lambs will be a better fit with the seasonal nature of his arable operation.

“Having the breeding ewes meant we had to have a certain portion of the farm in grass for 12 months of the year which was proving increasingly difficult.

“We’ll start buying lambs in early January and will keep buying them until April or May. They will be on the property for three or four months with the winter lambs staying on for a bit longer.

“We’re aiming to have 4000 on farm in October to help finish our ryegrass crops for us.”

 

 

Proving the benefits of subsurface drip irrigation

Wednesday, February 9th, 2022

Cust dairy grazers Penny and Gary Robinson will collect and compare data from traditional irrigation systems to prove the benefits of their subsurface drip irrigation system.

 

After trialling a subsurface irrigation system last summer, Cust dairy grazers Gary and Penny Robinson are keen to collect data and compare this with traditional irrigation systems to back up their observations with evidence-based results.

The couple are participating in a six-month farming innovation project, which examines how the next generation of farmers are using innovative approaches to improve their farming practices. Waimakariri Landcare Trust (WLT) and Waimakariri Irrigation Limited (WIL) have partnered with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) for the project, with support from MPI’s Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund along with Environment Canterbury, Ballance, and DairyNZ.

A subsurface drip irrigation system consists of a network of valves, driplines, pipes, and emitters that are installed in tape below the surface of the soil. The evenly spaced emitters slowly release water directly to the root zone of plants which differs from traditional irrigation systems that apply water to the surface of the soil.

Gary says he had been interested in subsurface irrigation for some time before seeing the system first-hand at the Carrfields tent at the 2019 Canterbury A & P Show.

“I knew it had been heavily used overseas and once I saw it at the Show, I thought we have to look into this and see if we can make it work in New Zealand. We aligned ourselves with Carrfields regional manager Jeff Denley who planned to learn more about the system at the World Ag Expo in California in early 2020.”

Unfortunately, Jeff was unable to attend the Expo due to work commitments, so Gary and Penny went in his place and observed the system working first-hand by visiting large scale dairy operations in California.

Penny says seeing how subsurface irrigation worked and the longevity of the system, along with the increased pasture growth and environmental benefits convinced them to test the system on a portion of their 160-hectare leased beef and dairy grazing support farm in Cust.

“We decided to go with Netafim as they have a huge amount of R and D behind them and a great track record, along with the market share of the irrigation tape in the USA.

“If it wasn’t for COVID they would have been keen to come out to New Zealand and hold some workshops for local farmers to learn more about subsurface irrigation. We still hope that can happen at some stage in the future.”

Gary describes subsurface drip irrigation as a “game changer,” especially in terms of the environmental benefits it provides for water use efficiency.

“You’re using less water and you’re not wasting water. You are spoon feeding the plant, so it is getting exactly the right amount of water.

“It is a low-pressure system so you can take your water further which allows you to irrigate a larger area of land. If you want to get into fertigation, you can add exactly the right amount of nutrients without washing them away. It could help to solve our nitrate leaching problem.”

The couple are looking forward to gathering data from their system and comparing this with similar farming operations over the next six months so they can prove the benefits of subsurface drip irrigation.

“We’ve seen how it works but now we need the proof so we can show people the facts and figures behind the system and then have a real go of it as a business opportunity.”

 

 

New farmer-led sustainability project launched in Waimakariri

Monday, May 24th, 2021

Annabelle and Georgie Stalker are the sixth generation on their family’s Waimakariri farm – their father Richard is now joining dozens of other local farmers in an MPI-funded project to ensure the future of farming under new regulations.

The Stalkers are part of a three-year, farmer-led sustainability project launched in the Waimakariri District. The nearly $700,000 project is supported to the tune of 60 percent by the Ministry for Primary Industries’ (MPI) Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures fund.

The Waimakariri Landcare Trust (WLT) – formerly Next Generation Farmers – has initiated the project, which will see farmers working together to identify and monitor new on-farm practices to help address environmental concerns.

Industry bodies and local authorities are partnering with WLT and contributing additional funds. Project partners include Environment Canterbury, DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Waimakariri Irrigation Limited, and Ballance Agri-Nutrients.

WLT Chair and fifth-generation dairy farmer Sam Spencer-Bower says it is an opportunity to investigate practical solutions that balance farm profitability and environmental sustainability.

“Waimakariri farmers face significant water, environmental, and sustainability challenges,” says Sam.

“Environmental stewardship is already part of our daily operations – it is part of our social licence and responsibility as caretakers of the land.

“We are bringing the farming sector together to investigate and test new on-farm practices and tools to help farmers continue reducing environmental risk – while still remaining profitable so they can farm into the future.”

Farmer confidence and farm viability plays a key role in achieving environmental improvement, he says.

“There are lots of fancy ideas out there but they need to be practical and proven, to give farmers the confidence to invest in them. We are serious about making a difference and driving change from the farm gate.”

During the past few weeks farmers involved with the project have been meeting in groups and collaborating with industry experts to brainstorm ideas. These include:

  • Demonstration sites for application of liquid fertiliser
  • Using ‘exemplar’ farms as case studies to showcase the journey towards a high-performing, sustainable system
  • Investigating the concept of an informative walkway between town and country to increase community engagement
  • Working with industry specialists to undertake research on the economic value of environmental mitigation.

For dairy farmer and WLT member Richard Stalker, the project is an opportunity to understand future options and new technologies, while promoting the value of farming to the wider community.

“Farming is an integral part of this district. My family has farmed here for 140 years, and my two daughters are sixth-generation. It’s important that we adopt sustainable land-use practices to ensure the community continues to thrive for future generations.”

Addressing environmental issues “is just good business”, adds Richard, who farms 200-hectares on the outskirts of Rangiora.

“Farmers are already investing in new technology to reduce their environmental impact. We are very receptive to sensible, pragmatic solutions that are supported by science and research.

“For the past eight years I have been applying reduced rates of nitrogen with an online GPS tracking system, which means I can apply precise amounts to certain areas of the paddock ­– instead of a blanket approach.

“We have also partnered with rural electricity company Solagri Energy to install a first of its kind solar panel system, which has greatly reduced our energy requirements.

“WLT is now providing us with a vehicle to communicate our progress and share what we are doing with other farmers and the wider sector.”

Steve Penno, Director Investment Programmes at MPI, says the project is a great example of the farming community rallying together to tackle a shared challenge.

“Reducing environmental impacts is a key goal in Fit for a Better World – Accelerating our Economic Recovery – the roadmap for the food and fibres sector launched last year to boost New Zealand’s recovery efforts from COVID-19.

“MPI is investing in this new project because it will deliver practical tools to reduce environmental impacts on-farm, and help build on New Zealand’s reputation for producing food with strong environmental credentials.

“By working together, this project will be able to achieve more than if each farmer embarked on this work alone.”