Embracing technology and adapting to market demand

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.”