Technology Improves Water Management

Pastoral agriculture in New Zealand produces more than a third of all internationally traded dairy products, about 20% of all internationally-traded sheep and 10% of beef.

For a country smaller than the size of Nebraska with a population of four million, these are impressive statistics.

The country’s natural advantages are an equable climate and the ability to grow grass all year round. However, increased productivity over recent years — largely to fulfill dairy export demands has led to increased dependence on irrigation systems to extend dairy into new regions and maintain productivity levels through the dry summer months.

This has put pressure on freshwater allocations with resultant restrictions, so farmers are looking to optimize the water-use efficiency of their irrigated pastoral systems, aiming for best conversion of each millimeter of applied water to plant growth. Consequently, there is a current trend to replace traditional flood irrigation systems with more efficient center pivot and lateral sprinkler systems, with an estimated 40% of all irrigated land now under these sprinkler systems. This opens up opportunities for variable rate irrigation scheduling, with individual sprinkler control.

The New Zealand Centre for Precision Agriculture and Landcare Research (an environmental research part of Crown Research Institute) are developing a soil-based decision support tool for variable rate irrigation scheduling, so that a sprinkler system can be directed to deliver different depths of water to different zones based on soil differences. This gives better use of stored soil water, especially in the variable, young alluvial soils, which typify many of New Zealand’s soils. For example, some of our research in the Canterbury Plains of the South Island has found that a 600-meter (approximately 1,968 feet) center pivot, covering an area of 113 hectares (about 280 acres), irrigates soils with available water holding capacities ranging between 40 and 100 mm available water (approx 1.5 to 4 inches), so that some zones ideally require irrigation earlier than others to maintain potential yields.

EM mapping is being used to delineate soil spatial variability on a basis of differences in soil apparent electrical conductivity (EC). Soil EC differences are largely due to differences in soil texture and moisture in these non-saline soils, and our research has found good relationships between soil available water holding capacity (AWC) and soil EC so soil AWC maps can be produced. These maps indicate the maximum amount of available water that a soil can supply to plants, and are used, with daily soil moisture predictions or measurements of wetting and drying within each zone, to produce soil water status maps. Soil water status maps predict the day on which each zone reaches it’s irrigation trigger point (Fig. 2). The maps are available for upload to an automated variable-rate irrigation system.

The variable-rate irrigation system is being developed by WMC Technology Ltd (NZ) and is at present in the testing stage. Solenoids are fitted to sprinklers and controlled in banks of four, with each controller contributing to a wireless network. The system is controlled by software that determines the application depth at any point under the irrigator.

Figure 2 shows a soil water status map for Jan. 4, 2008, where zones that require irrigation are marked in red. This site is on a farm in the Manawatu Sand Country, where corn is being grown as a grain and fodder crop. The red zones are characterized by sandy knolls in an undulating sand plain topography. These sandy knolls tend to dry out very quickly in early summer and become hydrophobic (water repellent). Ideally they require very frequent irrigation events to maintain soil moisture for potential crop growth. In comparison, other low lying zones that are just meters away stay wet by receiving additional water as a result of capillary rise from a high water table and therefore require less irrigation to maintain the optimum soil moisture for potential crop growth. This is a situation where variable-rate irrigation is desirable as it 1) meets the needs of high water-use soils and 2) decreases over-watering of low-lying areas that might otherwise become flooded, which in turn stunts plant growth and increases the likelihood of nutrient leaching and plant disease, as well as wasting water.

Variable-rate irrigation (VRI) is an enabling technology with multiple benefits. It improves water-use efficiency and allows crop flexibility under one irrigator where crop type can be matched to soil type. It also increases options for chemigation and fertigation. Saved water can be redirected elsewhere, allowing better strategic use when it is limited or restrictions are imposed mid-season when crop demand is highest. Our research shows water savings of 10% to 20% under VRI systems, based on hypothetical irrigation scheduling using a water balance model where soil zones are only irrigated when they reach their specific irrigation trigger point (i.e. a known AWC depletion factor).

This research will continue to 1) develop the variable rate irrigation soil decision tool, and to 2) investigate the potential advantages and uptake of these systems by New Zealand agriculture.

The New Zealand Centre for Precision Agriculture (NZCPA) is undertaking a wide range of research to meet the demands of current agricultural systems in the country. The Centre has developed a pasture growth meter to map pasture yields (Fig. 3). The maps are a grazing management tool aimed at improved pasture utilization. The rapid pasture meter is now produced and marketed by a local manufacturing company CDAX Systems Ltd., Palmerston North, New Zealand.

GPS collars on dairy cows indicate their preferential grazing zones (Fig. 4), and this information will be incorporated into the pasture yield maps for further improvements in pasture utilization. In addition, pasture quality is being assessed using on-the-go near-infrared sensors.

Research has also been conducted to assess the accuracy of ground and aerial fertilizer spreaders, driven by the need for more efficient use of fertilizers not only because of soaring prices but also for better environmental control. Driver and pilot accuracy was assessed with GPS tracking, and fertilizer spreading accuracy by transverse spread tests. The studies showed that ground spreader accuracy was 30%, which could be improved 18% with GPS guidance. Topdressing planes were less accurate at 90%, improved to 60% with GPS guidance. The research contributed to the introduction of a national certification scheme for quality accreditation of fertilizer spreaders, called “Spreadmark.”

Pioneering methods, developed in the 1950s to topdress superphosphate onto New Zealand hill country, opened up these areas for productive sheep and beef farming. However, our research shows it is difficult to accurately spread fertilizer from aerial topdressing planes. In addition, these regions are typified by highly variable pasture performance due to effects of slope and aspect, and preferred animal camp sites on flat areas. Hill country has been identified as a key area that can benefit from the introduction of precision agriculture practices, where pasture production varies significantly with topography, leading to the need for fertilizer placement optimization.

However, this will rely on first improving the accuracy of fertilizer application technologies in these areas. New Zealand farmers are adopting GPS guidance for farm machinery and finding immediate energy and time savings of 10% to 15%. More than 50% of registered fertilizer spreading trucks now have GPS guidance assistance. Auto-steer cultivation is being used for strip tillage and other farm operations such as precision planting and spraying, and there is also uptake of auto-steer for controlled traffic farming. In addition, GPS guidance is allowing improved on-farm traceability and auditing.In New Zealand, where primary production contributes 16% of GDP there is significant potential for increased adoption of precision agriculture technologies to improve the efficiencies of our productive landscapes.

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Technology Improves Water Management

  1. The Purchase Manager
    Dear Sir,

    We are one of the leading Manufacturer and Exporter of Precision Brass Components & Brass Items; we are in this field having vast experience of more than 20 years in manufacturing Brass Quality Components. Our main export business is properly set with European Countries as well as UK and USA and many more.

    I would appreciate if you can just take a look to the catalog attached with this file. It will give you clear picture of the Brass Products we deal in with. Plus we also prepare all parts and products according to the samples and drawings provided by our respected customer.
    We generally deal in the following Brass Products: –
    Brass Insert
    Brass Hex Nut
    Brass Hex Bolts
    Brass Reducer
    Brass Nozzle
    Brass C.P. Extension Nipple
    Brass Sprinklers Accessories
    Brass Sprinkler
    Brass Fittings
    Brass Turned Parts
    Brass Adapter
    Brass Plug
    Brass Sanitary Fittings
    Brass Precision Components
    Brass Bush

    We would appreciate if you could kindly arrange to send us your valued Purchase Inquiries to enable us to quote you our most competitive prices and to start business relations with your esteemed company. We assure you if given chance, we will prove our ability and you would truly appreciate the Quality of the products manufactured by us and services provided.

    Quality Assurance :-
    We as a brass Builder Hardware Manufacturer Our each Brass Items in our factory has to pass through stringent quality control inspections and only products that pass our accepted standards leave our premises. We also welcome and facilitate customers with their own designs and specifications.

    Note- Please views our brass components company profile and sends your fresh requirements of brass components
    Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

    Thanks & Regards,
    Mr. Kalpesh Taraviya

    Plot No.486-C 2, G.I.D.C.
    Shanker Tekri Udhyognagar,
    Jamnagar – 361004,
    (Gujarat), India
    Cell:009924409980 (Mr.Kalpesh)
    Email: [email protected], [email protected]

Hort Tech Stories
Business ManagementBionic Leaves: Future Source of Endless Fertilizer?
April 21, 2017
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Hort TechAGCO, Fendt’s Project MARS Pursues the Future of Farm Robots
April 13, 2017
(SOURCE: MARS stands for Mobile Agricultural Robot Swarms. Or in other words, it stands for agriculture of the future, Read More
Sentera drone
DronesSentera Debuts Enhanced North America Dealer Network
April 11, 2017
Sentera today announced the availability of its precision agriculture solutions at over 350 retail locations across North America. By broadening Read More
DronesDrone Deploy – agX Integration Aids Drone Data Use, Sharing
April 7, 2017
Commercial drone software platform developer DroneDeploy has announced an integration with the agX to help growers more easily capture field maps and Read More
Trending Articles
Data ManagementInnovation Series Highlights: The Weather Company’s Rob Berglund on Cognitive Computing
April 19, 2017
Rob Berglund, global director of sales, energy and agriculture at The Weather Company, discusses IBM’s Watson and applications for advanced analytics that will fundamentally change Read More
Corn close up
Data ManagementFarmers Business Network Releases State of the Industry Style Report
April 17, 2017
Farmer’s Business Network (FBN) released today its “The Voice of the Farmer”, a special research report on the state of Read More
Soybean Closeup
Ag Tech GlobalPrecision Agriculture Helps Brazilian Farmers Top 90-Bushel Soybean Yield
April 5, 2017
In the 2016/2017 harvest, the Mato Grossense Institute of Economics (IMEA) estimated that the largest soybean state in Brazil will Read More
Grower Retaile iPad
ProfessionalsField Scouting Apps Boost Efficiency, Speed
March 31, 2017
Scouting is one of the most critical services that ag retailers and consultants can offer their grower-customers. The need for Read More
Bruce Rasa corn AgVoice app
Data ManagementVoice-To-Data Tool Shows Promise For Scouting
March 24, 2017
See it, speak it, record it. No pens, no paper, no lost information. In a nutshell that’s what Bruce Rasa Read More
Downed Drone
DronesOpinion: The Agricultural Drone War Is Over, And They Lost
March 15, 2017
If you are late to the aerial imagery party and think that agricultural drones are the vehicle that are the Read More
Latest News
Nuffield Scholarship
Ag Tech GlobalNuffield: Promoting the Diffusion of Knowledge of Preci…
April 24, 2017
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet John Stevenson, a 2016 Nuffield Australia Scholarship winner.  As part of the scholarship, John Read More
GPS, Guidance
Business ManagementPromoting Precision Agricultural Innovation in a Risk A…
April 24, 2017
As precision agriculture consultants we constantly are being asked our opinions on where to invest, and how to strategically invest Read More
Case IH Autonomous concept vehicle
ProfessionalsOpinion: What the Heck is A.I. Going to do for Agricult…
April 24, 2017
Let’s pause from the daily toils of ag for a minute and start thinking about the future. In a very Read More
Imagery ipad
Imagery/SensingNew Opportunities with In-season Imagery?
April 24, 2017
When I think about precision agriculture my usual thoughts are around the continuous learning about the variability in a field. Read More
Data ManagementNew Partnership: Farmers Edge, Allied Cooperative Link …
April 24, 2017
Farmers Edge announced it has partnered with Allied Cooperative, a provider of agronomy, feed, grain, and equipment services to growers Read More
Retailer Grower Tractor
ProfessionalsAg Attorney: Sorry Right to Repair Advocates, But You&#…
April 21, 2017
(via This recent article on Motherboard is getting a lot of press: “Why American Farmers are Hacking Their Tractors Read More
ProfessionalsAgFunder: Clean Seed’s Wireless Smart Seeder is Set to …
April 21, 2017
(Via Heard of Clean Seed Capital Group? No? You will very soon because this Canadian company has been quietly Read More
Business ManagementBionic Leaves: Future Source of Endless Fertilizer?
April 21, 2017
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Sentera software
Decision Support SoftwareSentera Launching Field-Edge Plant Population Analysis …
April 20, 2017
Sentera is excited to announce the launch of its closed beta for field-edge Plant Population Analysis, available through its AgVault Read More
Data ManagementFarm Market iD Launches Sales & Marketing Platform
April 20, 2017
Following Farm Market iD’s February 2017 introduction of FieldVision, its mobile data-delivery platform, the company announced today its newest online Read More
Data ManagementInnovation Series Highlights: The Weather Company’…
April 19, 2017
Rob Berglund, global director of sales, energy and agriculture at The Weather Company, discusses IBM’s Watson and applications for advanced analytics that will fundamentally change Read More
Data ManagementInnovation Series Highlights: EFC Systems & 5 Facto…
April 19, 2017
Ernie Chappell of EFC Systems discusses five factors impacting the ag retail industry, the competitive advantages of enhanced customer engagement Read More
Moo monitor
Sensors/IoTUsing IoT to Increase Efficiency, Productivity for Live…
April 19, 2017
When it comes to managing livestock and feed, the goal for every farmer is to be as efficient and productive Read More
corn field
Ag Tech GlobalPrecision Ag Technology Making a Difference in Brazil
April 19, 2017
Editor’s note: Rodrigo Trevisan is Coordinator of Precision Agriculture at Terra Santa Agro in Brazil, where he is responsible for the development Read More
Precision Application Field sprayer
Tools & Smart Equipment5 Ways Precision Application Is Creating Opportunities …
April 19, 2017
Throughout the years, precision agriculture has facilitated improvements to farming equipment, from auto-steer on combines to variable rate seeding on Read More
Ag Tech BASF Licenses CRISPR-Cas9 Technolog…
April 18, 2017
(Via BASF recently announced that it has reached a global licensing agreement with the Broad Institute of MIT and Read More
Ag Tech Analysis of Recent Farm TED Talks
April 18, 2017
The up-and-coming generation of farmers, and those following them, will face some big questions as they span their careers, writes Read More
Corn close up
Data ManagementFarmers Business Network Releases State of the Industry…
April 17, 2017
Farmer’s Business Network (FBN) released today its “The Voice of the Farmer”, a special research report on the state of Read More