Out of necessity, New Zealand farmers have become inherently good at improvising over the years and that background will stand them in good stead with the growing array of precision farming techniques becoming available, says Professor of Precision Agriculture at Massey University Ian Yule.
Yule was among several precision agriculture speakers at the recent Fertiliser and Lime Research Workshop at Massey University and he highlighted three well-known farmers adopting and adapting the technologies to meet their specific needs.
Hayden Laurence, Taranaki, helped invent the C-Dax pasture meter and uses precision techniques to measure and manage feed for his cows and fertiliser applications.
Craig McKenzie, Mid Canterbury, uses soil and crop sensors to variably apply inputs across paddocks, including irrigation, to optimise spot rates. He also uses crop models to verify his thinking.
Meanwhile Hew Dalrymple, Bulls, is using related technologies to assist with drainage and soil contour issues, and has ‘auto steer’ machinery.
“All three farmers have a very strong knowledge base in a scientific sense and they also have an excellent understanding of their own farming systems.”
As farm systems become more complex it’s up to scientists to ensure farmers understand the technology available, says Yule.
“The problem isn’t that we need more technology; it’s what we do with existing technology to make it more usable…”
What sensor to use will depend on the information required, and it has to be made cost effective.
“I guess for me that is the big challenge,” he says.
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – not drones – have been around for some time and Yule says a lot of projects are looking at issues such as measuring urine spots in paddocks.
“I think precision agriculture is going to be very fast moving - iteratively - so there is going to be a lot of small steps made. We are not going to make huge leaps, but there’s going to be some very rapid steps. Some will going down an ally that is a dead end and some will continue. There are lots of possibilities but no single answer - in other words a bricolage approach.”