17 November 2020
A 50 percent drop in fuel consumption and a dramatic boost to accuracy are key benefits of using GPS-based technology, according to arable and finishing farmers Brendon and Rachel Williams.
The precision spatial management of soil testing, nutrient inputs, tillage and yield monitoring are among the GPS-based technologies used by these 2020 Horizons BFEA recipients.
“Essentially, it’s made things a whole lot easier,” says Brendon.
“The use of technology allows us to do things in a more precise way. For example, you might be spreading fertiliser on a certain area of a paddock and we can ensure we only do the specific zone that needs it.”
Using GPS technology, the Williams have changed the cultivation technique at their Rangitikei property so maize is planted in strips, with only the strip being cultivated – an innovative approach that has led to a 50% drop in fuel use.
“When drilling without GPS, you have to gauge how far to be from the previous run and you tend to be cautious – ending up with an overlap of between 150mm and 200mm on a 3m strip. With GPS, that overlap drops to between 30mm and 40mm.”
Using technology in farming – where to start?
Setting clear goals and establishing simple systems are critical when it comes to successfully using on-farm technology, says Brendon.
“Identify what it is that you’re trying to achieve – for example straight lines when drilling or accurate data on paddock sizes. If you start with the basics, you can add to that.
“The more information you gather, the more informed your decisions. Farmers often stick to a tried and true method because it’s reliable. We went out on a limb when we changed cultivation techniques for our maize because it wasn’t widely practiced. We did a little bit and, when it worked, we jumped in boots and all.”
Treat soils like a bank
Their property, Pencoed Trust, was bought three generations ago, largely for its excellent soils, and the couple is focused on protecting and caring for this precious resource.
“Your soil is like a savings account – if you look after it then, as time goes by, it will look after you,” says Brendon.
Technology is once again central to their strategy for looking after the soil, along with good drainage, and careful crop rotation and stocking.
“We carry out soil testing before planting so we know which nutrients it’s deficient in and can match inputs. We can even split a paddock into zones and adjust planting and fertiliser ratios to match soil types or slopes.”
Run by the New Zealand Farm Environment Trust, the Ballance Farm Environment Awards recognise and celebrate good farm practices that promote sustainable land management. In 2020, Brendon and Rachel won the following Horizons BFEA: