Friday, December 8, 2023

Freshwater plans a tool for precision ag

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As freshwater farm plans are rolled out in your region, consider how you can use this new tool in your precision ag tool kit and can tell the story of how you care for your land, writes Daniel Kenna.
From automated harvesting to soil analysis, new tools are advancing the goals of precision ag, says Katikati kiwifruit grower Daniel Kenna.
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Exciting progress has been made in the field of precision agricultural technology, with new tools being developed to advance our goals of improving production practises.

Our farmers and growers can now benefit from home-grown agricultural technology that provides precise information to aid our decisions on farm and orchard. This not only provides us with the tools we need to make the best decisions but also allows us to demonstrate our world-leading practices to our consumers. This allows our food and fibre industry to both demand a premium price and satisfy evolving consumer demands.

To continue to produce food and fibre that nourishes our families, communities, nations and people around the world, making decisions using the highest quality data specific to our orchard or farm, is imperative.

New Zealand agricultural landscapes are highly diverse. From the year-round grass growth in Waikato to the tussock lands of Central Otago, a highly nuanced approach to farming practice is needed. Due to the variation not only between regions but different farms within the same catchment, flexibility on best practice that protects the land is required.

Our producers can benefit from spatial mapping and digitisation of land use management tools at the catchment level to assist with future decision-making. Through different lenses we can overlay to include data on the land’s variables, such as soil type, depth, texture, drainage and slope and erosion risk.

Through this we can identify areas best suited for land use change and provide a solid tool for food and fibre producers to build diverse and resilient land use systems. These are tailored for our catchment type and to the individual farm – a balance between climate change adaptation, consumer and market trends and what’s viable on your land. 

The benefit in such tools only lies in where we put this information and how we use it. 

Such a tool is the Freshwater Farm Plans (FWFP).

FWFP is a regulated farm planning process for farmers and growers that will provide a practical way to identify, manage and reduce the impact of farming on the freshwater environment.

FWFP will become a part of the precision ag story NZ is so well known for.

Our FWFP will form the home for the information we gather using our current precision ag tools. A recognition of the land management tools such as our weather station, spatial mapping, irrigation and fertigation management, and our real-time variable rate nitrogen sensors. 

These systems paint a clear picture and will form long-term land use plans. Although this falls under compliance, it will help complement and assist what farmers and growers already do to protect their land.

They will be how we share our story of conservation and the care we take as managers of the land. Identifying land for retirement provides a fantastic opportunity. Community links between town and farm are growing stronger again. The rise in catchment groups and waterway care groups has brought people out of the town and on to the farm, working with the landholder to plant up waterways and take a role in the upkeep of the natural capital we all enjoy.  

My family has been producing world-class kiwifruit for three generations through challenging conditions like PSA and market collapse. Throughout the 40 years of operation, how we cared for our land in the first 20 years has dictated how we could produce in the last 20. 

The lessons learnt along the way will shape how I sustainably grow kiwifruit into the next generation.  A new group led by growers and supported by Zespri called the Impact Orchard Network (ION) is being formed to help share the knowledge gained by orchardists to the wider growing community.

The purpose of the ION is to develop, improve and demonstrate effective on-orchard practices, validated in science with a particular focus on economic and environmental sustainability. At the heart of this group is an orchard plan that sets our goals for production and our aspirations for improving the land we operate on.

This group enables a focus on those grower-to-grower conversations about the practices we have been using to enhance our profitability, improve the natural capital we operate on and how we’ve built resilience into our businesses. 

As freshwater farm plans are rolled out in your region, consider how you can use this new tool in your precision ag tool kit and can tell the story of how you care for your land. 

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