Map­ping fu­ture farm­ing

Hamish McNi­col re­ports on mak­ing dif­fi­cult farm­ing dis­cus­sions easy with tech­nol­ogy and data.

Sunday Star-Times - - BUSINESS -

Telling a dairy farmer they had to change their farm lay­out or add some fenc­ing was not al­ways an easy con­ver­sa­tion to have.

But mov­ing data sets from ta­bles and num­bers to images and maps is one way tech­nol­ogy has helped farm­ers ‘‘push the boat out’’ on im­prov­ing farm ef­fi­cien­cies, and mit­i­gat­ing im­pacts on the en­vi­ron­ment.

It was all about re­mov­ing some of the guess­work.

‘‘You’re tak­ing all of it out,’’ farmer Craige Macken­zie said.

In 2003, Fon­terra en­tered into the Dairy­ing and Clean Streams Ac­cord with the gov­ern­ment and re­gional coun­cils, with the aim of re­duc­ing the im­pact of dairy­ing on wa­ter qual­ity.

This was then fol­lowed in 2013 with the Sus­tain­able Dairy­ing Wa­ter Ac­cord, and stock was now ex­cluded from 97 per cent of water­ways on Fon­terra farms.

‘‘Ev­ery one of the streams on farms owned by Fon­terra farm­ers is cap­tured on GIS (ge­o­graphic in­for­ma­tion sys­tems) maps and we have a tar­get of all farm­ers hav­ing doc­u­mented ri­par­ian management plans by 2020, which de­tail how plant­ing and other pro­tec­tions will help im­prove wa­ter qual­ity,’’ Fon­terra head of global con­sumer and food­ser­vice Jac­que­line Chow said last year.

Now, that GIS map­ping has evolved.

GIS tech­nol­ogy cap­tured, man­aged, an­a­lysed and dis­played forms of ge­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion vis­ually, such as on a map.

Fon­terra’s GIS ex­pert Blair Smith, said the ini­tial map­ping done through the ac­cord, meant the com­pany ended up with a data set which spa­tially mapped out all of its farms.

This meant it could help farm­ers with more than just where fences needed to be for stock ex­clu­sion, and had grown to be used to help with ri­par­ian management (the strip of land be­tween wa­ter and the farm) and ni­tro­gen management.

Macken­zie said he had started us­ing farm­ing tech­nol­ogy, such as an­i­mal mon­i­tor­ing and crop sens­ing, back in 2006.

GIS had been cru­cial for his con­verted dairy farm, be­cause the re­aligned fences of a new farm changed the fer­til­ity of pad­docks.

There were two ben­e­fits to the GIS map­ping, he said: it made his farm en­vi­ron­men­tally and fi­nan­cially sta­ble, and the fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity meant he could in­vest in more tech­nol­ogy to make it more en­vi­ron­men­tally sta­ble.

For in­stance, Macken­zie had been able to re­duce his wa­ter us­age by 30 to 40 per cent, while ex­clu­sion zones on the maps meant it was easy to en­sure fer­tiliser could not come within 50 me­tres of water­ways.

The over­rid­ing ben­e­fit was im­proved ef­fi­ciency, but ben­e­fits for the farm, and the en­vi­ron­ment, were not go­ing to hap­pen overnight.

‘‘As farm­ers, we’re fo­cused on good en­vi­ron­men­tal out­comes, we take this se­ri­ously.

‘‘We want to do our bit and in­vest in the tech­nol­ogy to do this.

‘‘Once you’ve got your head in that space, it’s not dif­fi­cult.’’

Craig­more Sus­tain­ables, which has 19 dairy farms from Cul­ver­den in North Can­ter­bury to Otago, has been us­ing the GIS tech­nol­ogy for one sea­son.

Sus­tain­abil­ity man­ager War­ren Lan­dles, said GIS let the com­pany man­age what was hap­pen­ing be­low the sur­face.

It could pre­cisely map the dif­fer­ent soil types across its farms: on one farm there were 16 types, on oth­ers it could be as low as two or three.

‘‘As farm­ers we know what’s

This new tech­nol­ogy al­lows us to man­age what's hap­pen­ing be­low the sur­face. War­ren Lan­dles

hap­pen­ing above ground, be­cause we can see it with our eyes.

‘‘This new tech­nol­ogy al­lows us to man­age what’s hap­pen­ing be­low the sur­face. ‘‘It takes any guess work out.’’ This meant the farms could get away from a blan­ket ap­proach and be­come more ef­fi­cient by be­ing able to man­age the dif­fer­ent soil types more specif­i­cally.

It had been straight­for­ward to im­ple­ment, he said, but once farm­ers had used it for longer, and started to work more di­rectly with sup­pli­ers on it, you would start to see some real gains.

‘‘It gives us the abil­ity to help us start think­ing, where do we need to be in five years?’’

Smith said the tech­nol­ogy had helped make con­ver­sa­tions eas­ier with farm­ers.

‘‘When you’ve got a map to talk to, it makes it eas­ier.’’

MIKE SCOTT/FAIR­FAX NZ

Methven farmer Craige Macken­zie, said farm­ers are fo­cused on good en­vi­ron­men­tal out­comes.

Fon­terra’s GIS map­ping tech­nol­ogy cap­tures, man­ages, analy­ses and dis­plays ge­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion.

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