The future is here now
Precision agriculture cuts costs while increasing yields.
As the avocado industry strives for improved productivity, the wise use of technology will benefit growers in significant ways.
One of New Zealand’s agricultural technology trailblazers, Craige Mackenzie, told the conference tools and technology are part of the solution, but what’s really important is how orchardists implement these new devices.
The mid-Canterbury farmer owns Agri Optics NZ, a business that develops precision tools for NZ farming systems and is involved in several dairy and cropping industry research initiatives.
“Technology and its implementation must always be aimed at the bottom line – profit,” he said.
“New technologies can help with land variability, and it starts by measuring and mapping your resources. Production’s vanity and profit’s sanity. Profitability is the factor that drive things forward in all of our businesses.”
All landowners probably knew they had areas of unproductive but tended to leave them alone when it was useful to map them.
“If you’re not profitable, you’re not going to invest in technology,” he said.
“These areas may not be able to be turned into high yielding areas or high profit areas straight away but they need to stop costing you money.”
Putting numbers around such pockets of land was a real wake up call. Farmers needed to step up and manage their businesses to be ready for increasing challenges.
“Water is the life-blood of our production systems,” he said.
“If we don’t measure, we can’t model and mitigate what’s happening. Good sustainable farming practices and the most profitable ones, go hand in hand. If we think we’re going to continue to use water and do what we want, then we need to be focused on doing better.
“Precision agriculture is the solution in many ways.”
Inputs and carbon footprints could both be reduced by 30 percent while increasing production. Technology which enables Craige Mackenzie wants all growers growers to monitor,
to be doing better with less. record and provide data about their activities is important public relations tool to allow them the continued right to farm.
In his own operations he uses electro-magnetic soil mapping at depths of 75 centimetres and 1.5 metres, and monitors water holding capacity, depth to gravels, clay, slope and elevation. This gives information on soil nutrient variability and allows precision nutrient management. The aim is to spend money in the right places in order to save cost and significantly increase
He warned growers who pay commercial operators for data services to make sure their data collection is accurate. And ownership of data going into the cloud is another area of concern.
“As growers and producers, it’s important that we own the data,” he said.
“It’s all very fine to share data but ensure you don’t lose control of it. If you pay for it, make sure you sign the paperwork and agreements that confirms you own it.”
Irrigation techniques on his 200 hectare farm have changed dramatically over the years, with him using half the water he used to when he had border dykes. He then switched to spray guns and saved a further 15 percent. Every sprinkler is individually managed and has a GPS location with 35 different zones on the farm all individually managed. Soil moisture monitoring technology used for the last four years allows him to look at every 10cm in the soil profile which shows where water is sitting.
“If no water has left the root zone, then no nutrients have either,” he said.
“I can prove our case to regulators who say we’re leaching 30-60kg of nitrogen/ha. I know where the water is sitting, however, we need to take measurements to be able to tell that story.”
Many tools are coming along which will provide real time information on nitrogen, potassium, phosphate, pH, and a range of elements, enabling solutions targeting the root zone.
“Everybody’s sitting and waiting for the future technology but just get on the bus and do something today,” he said.
“Don’t wait for a silver bullet. The best way to predict our future, is to create it.”