Tuesday, 10 September 2013 16:09

Farmers with the real smarts

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The Dalrymple brothers, Hew and Roger, farming just out of Bulls, have a second pair of eyes looking over their property.  Actually the word is ‘i’ – as in smartphone technology. Peter Burke reports on the technology in use and the savings that result.

 

FOR SIX generations the Dalrymple families have farmed in Manawatu and slowly built their land base. 

The current 2200ha freehold plus 200ha leased property is diverse – forestry, cropping, horticulture, sheep and beef trading and some specialised stock business, mainly managing dairy heifers prior to export to China and elsewhere.

Roger runs the sheep and beef, Hew looks after cropping.  This year they’ll plant at least 450ha in maize, 30ha in potatoes, 10ha in onions, 40ha in squash, 120ha in barley and 14ha in wheat. 

Lamb trading numbers vary each year, usually about 25,000, plus up to 10,500 cattle and about the same in dairy heifers. They also contract-finish, making it a big, complex operation.

To better manage and improve profitability, with 12 staff,  Dalrymples have turned to technology to make the difference. It began with the advent of self-steering tractors and, with that, yield mapping. 

Says Hew, it was about gathering hard data. “Once you measured it you could do something about it and at first it was water.  We initially got into irrigation but now there is precision irrigation so you can adjust each nozzle on the irrigator, and now there’s a combination of systems. If you know that a certain patch of ground is dry so you can put a hand-held GPS around it and put those coordinates in the computer and, bang, that will always be considered a ‘red zone’. The irrigators can do any portion in a whole paddock and any one of those nozzles can be turned on or off automatically by the computer.”

The technology allows multi-programmes to be set up in the computer to match seasonal changes and individual crop requirements so water is used strategically and not wasted. And it can be used to supply liquefied nutrients to crops. 

Hew says precision-steering tractors and drills also help achieve cost savings by greater precision. And such technology is easier on the staff who have to drive the tractors, reducing stress and tiredness. 

“Our testing shows an immediate saving of 10% on fuel so that transfers to everything. That’s a minimum; it’s closer to 12% or 13%, an immediate saving on repairs and maintenance and staff time, and less wastage of seed and fertiliser. 

“It’s dead accurate; there’s no over- or under-supply anywhere. You can dial up exactly how much fertiliser you need, you don’t have to get an extra tonne just in case. It raises the bar and we can programme different seeding rates into our latest drill. With this, each planter turns itself off when it gets to the end of a row so you avoid overlaps to within 6cm at the end of the row.”

Hew takes pride in a job well done. “I love it. I look at it and say ‘isn’t that great’ and I feel good.” 

He has done a lot of land contouring, using technology to set correct levels on new drain networks or replacement drains. And the brothers are always on the lookout for something new. A mechanical weeder is on Hew’s wish list.

“We can get a tool that will – let’s say that’s a row there – enable the weeder to go sideways as you drive down between the plants. It’s exciting to me because farming is getting more resistant to chemicals because plants like to stay around. So mechanical weeding is another tool in the arsenal.” 

And using infra-red measurement in plants, the fertiliser rate can be altered by a machine as it moves down a row of plants. “A device on the front of the machine will read the fertiliser needs of an individual plant and the exact amount required will be applied by a device at the back. We are doing research work on our farm with Massey University,” Hew says.

And a smartphone gives the brothers fingertip control of this technology, so they can monitor just about every aspect of what’s happening on their property at any time – even from overseas.

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