The fu­ture is here now

Pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture cuts costs while in­creas­ing yields.

The Orchardist - - Avocado Conference - By Denise Landow

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

pro­duc­tion.

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.”

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