Saturday, April 20, 2024

Drought app to improve data access

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A new drought indicator app will not only provide farmers with information that will enable them to make better informed decisions with confidence, it also has the potential for data from other locations to be added to it, a Hawke’s Bay farmer says. Hawke’s Bay Regional Council recently launched its free drought indicator app, the first of its kind in NZ, to help the region’s rural communities.
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A new drought indicator app will not only provide farmers with information that will enable them to make better informed decisions with confidence, it also has the potential for data from other locations to be added to it, a Hawke’s Bay farmer says.

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council recently launched its free drought indicator app, the first of its kind in NZ, to help the region’s rural communities.

Council Integrated Catchment Management Group manager Iain Maxwell says it is a way for farmers to get a pulse check on the key climate conditions on their farm and wider area to support their planning for dry conditions and drought.

“Last year’s severe drought showed us that more tools were required for our farmers to prepare and plan for drought,” Maxwell said.

The tool has a ‘traffic light warning system’ for drought based on live rainfall, soil temperature, soil moisture and evapotranspiration data from the council’s 50 climate stations around the region.

“It is intended to take the hassle out of accessing regional climate data for our farmers, and for them to be able to go to one place and get a live view of climate conditions,” he said.

Patrick Crawshaw, who with wife Isabelle farms north-west of Napier, says he already uses data from the council’s Waihau climate station to help him make farming decisions.

Crawshaw says they are fortunate that their property, which is a Beef + Lamb NZ monitor farm, is only 250-300 metres from the climate station.

Already an avid user of that information, he says the app consolidates it into easy to understand and well-interpreted data sets so farmers can navigate their way through to get pertinent information quickly, as opposed to digging through the council’s website and then building the same picture.

He says there’s potential to fill in the network of council climate stations by adding others in the future, such as those operated by Niwa or individual farm businesses, to provide a more complete picture across the region.

“It’s just about getting more of these platforms to talk (to each other), then bringing that information over and interpreted on a standardised set of parameters,” Crawshaw said.

One of the keys for farmers is being able to understand the information they can access through the app and how it relates to their own properties.

“It’s all relative in the grand scheme of things,” he said.

“If you’re looking at your nearest one (climate station), it could be on your property or it could be further afield but as you understand the information at hand and trends over time, you can see how your property is in relation to that information.

“It gives you a relative start point. You’ve obviously got to understand the information but probably more so understand how it interacts. Then you can really get some horsepower out of it in your decision-making.

“It’s a reference point and a place where farm businesses can go and see where their system is at, how the season is tracking in front of them, what potential levers they’ve got up their sleeve and what type of horizons they have before having to start making those decisions.”

However, he says the information will only enhance decision-making, it’s not going to replace what farmers can touch, feel and see on-farm.

“But it will support and provide confidence to those decisions,” he said.

“It’s quite powerful from that point of view.”

The app was designed by the regional council with support from the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Hawke’s Bay Rural Advisory Group.

Crawshaw says the technology has the potential to benefit other parts of the country that are also prone to drought.

Hawke’s Bay Rural Advisory Group chair Lochie MacGillivray hopes the app will be well used by the rural community, to give those people a forward-looking view of dry conditions on-farm and help them to make tough decisions early.

To access the app, go to hbrc.govt.nz and search #droughtapp

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