Thursday, 19 August 2021 07:55

Take back control of your soil

Written by  Staff Reporters
CropX New Zealand general manager, Eitan Dan. CropX New Zealand general manager, Eitan Dan.

Global soil analysts CropX is urging farmers to take back control of their soil health before regulations dry them out.

With new regulations around nitrogen usage looming, the company is challenging farmers to take back control when it comes to the environmental sustainability of their farms, using new technology.

CropX provides water irrigation management solutions using their own patented soil sensors, which are used by farmers and growers globally to measure soil moisture temperature and the electric conductivity of the soil.

Now the company is using its existing soil sensors to develop a new method of tracking insights around nitrogen movement through the soil profile. It says this allows farmers and growers to immediately understand the impact their on-farm decisions, such as fertiliser application, irrigation and pasture species choices, have on nitrogen movement through the soil.

"Providing actual data to farmers is now more crucial than ever, with new regulations around nitrogen usage being introduced around the country", says Eitan Dan, CropX's New Zealand general manager.

Over the next five years, regional councils across the country will be implementing requirements to reduce nitrogen leached from farms into the future. Therefore, it is vital that farmers have access to the right information today, so they can start implementing any required step-changes tomorrow.

“Our new technology provides farmers with real-time information and data, allowing them to link the changes in soil water nitrogen concentrations to the activities they are undertaking,” says Dan. “From there they can fine tune their systems to achieve better environmental outcomes.”

The company says it did extensive research to develop the new solution, which assesses the levels of key nutrients in the soil. These nutrients are available for either plant growth or potentially at risk of leaching from the soil.

“Farmers are always trying to ensure their pasture has the right amount of water and nutrients available as they grow through to maturity,” says Dan.

"We know that if too much fertiliser is put on before the plant needs it, the excess dissolves and is leached, if we don’t put fertiliser on soon enough then crop growth is stalled from limited nutrients, and if we don’t put enough water on, even if there are adequate nutrients, crop growth is limited”.

CropX says its solution provides insights for farmers to make proactive management decisions about their crops’ optimal growth at the right time, without risking leaching. It says while modelling systems to understand the impact farming systems and on-farm practices have on nitrogen moving through the soil have been in place for some time, the ability to measure actual data, in real-time, is new for New Zealand farmers.

Farmers traditionally use Overseer, which provides estimates of the amount of nitrogen lost from their system via leaching on an annualised basis. Nitrogen leaching estimates are based on historical farm inputs along with long-term averages and although it is a sophisticated model, it was not designed to support farmers with on-farm decision making. The limitation of this method is that it is a once-a-year number and gives no insight into how a farmer could tactically change their farming practices day-to-day to improve the actual nitrogen lost.

Dan says nitrogen pollution of waterways from agricultural activity is something farmers are addressing. However, at the moment they are mostly operating in the dark, he says.

“This problem is not just limited to dairy, but also horticulture and even to some extent dry stock farming – to maintain their consent to farm, all farmers must reduce the amount of nitrogen leached from their farm systems to the mandated levels.

“What is most important is that farmers have the confidence to rapidly make changes on their farms, based on actual, real-time data.

“Farmers need to know that changes are having the desired outcomes, because without this, there will be reluctance by the majority to quickly adopt new practices.”

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