7 Mar 2014

Management, technology and farming for tomorrow

Sonia & Bridgit at FLRC

Two weeks ago Bridgit and Sonia attended the annual Fertiliser and Lime Research Centre conference held at Massey University in Palmerston North. Nutrient management was the central theme with a particular focus on how nutrient management on farms links to the wider catchment and community. 

It was very encouraging to see among the wide range of presentations some on the advances in precision agriculture technology and how these technologies may be employed on farms to better manage nutrient use and water resources. We thought we would share three of the conference discussions that caught our attention:

  • The need to measure and manage nutrient use has lead to strong interest in precision technology and automated tools for use on farms. An example from Queensland was given of a crop sensor that can take photo images throughout crop development, including recording the number of individual cotton flowers that develop. This crop measurement data is streamed live to a variable-rate irrigation controller to tailor the irrigation requirements depending on the stage of development for the cotton crop. The power in this type of technology lies in its ability to take real time measurements, meaning you can adjust inputs immediately leading to more a 'intelligent' system.
  • Massey University is researching the effects of standing cows off pasture using duration-controlled grazing (4 hour grazing periods) to reduce nitrate leaching in autumn and pugging damage in winter. Initial results are promising with up to 50% reduction in nitrate leaching. Current research is focused on how to maximise pasture and milk production and what bedding materials, such as sand, covered foam or rubber, the cows feel most at home on.  
  • Managing nutrient use is complex and solutions require a collaborative approach between farmers, regulators and scientists. One presentation highlighted farmer involvement in developing catchment plans with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council. Their involvement from the very beginning ensured there were practical and achievable options for managing nutrient use on their farms (e.g. reducing fertiliser application rates and increasing the size of effluent blocks).

A key message we got from the conference were that the scientific community are wanting to engage and collaborate with farmers to come up with practical solutions for managing nutrient use on the farm. It was a stimulating and valuable 3 days and it was exciting to see the new research and developments in nutrient management in New Zealand and overseas. It is clear the reality of farming within limits is here and the more you can monitor and measure what is going on in your farm regarding nutrient use the more effectively you can manage it. The use of technology that provides farm specific information is increasingly valuable and regulators are starting to see the value in it.

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