|Dairy Holdings has been on a journey to significantly reduce the amount of water and nitrogen fertiliser it uses as part of a five year strategy to limit environmental impacts – while improving productivity. Precision-ag technology company, CropX, has recently partnered with Dairy Holdings to help it meet those targets.|
Since implementing its strategy in 2017, Dairy Holdings has reduced water use by one third across its 60 farms spanning 20,000 hectares. This has been achieved by modernising irrigation systems, introducing water meters to measure annual consumption, and installing soil moisture monitors to guide irrigation decisions. Dairy Holdings has also reduced fertiliser use to well within the new nitrogen cap regulations of 190 kilograms per hectare (kgN/ha) at an average of 172 kgN/ha for the 2021/22 season.
Despite these big cuts in water and nutrient inputs, pasture growth has, in fact, improved. This has resulted in a massive 90% decrease in the quantity of purchased supplementary feed per year. Underlying all of this positive change has been a need for Dairy Holdings to understand, in precise terms, what is happening in the soil of its farms. This allows farm managers to make informed decisions about how much water and nutrients to apply to the land and when, to enable optimal grass growth with minimal inputs. Initially, as part of its irrigation upgrades, Dairy Holdings installed soil sensor tapes below the ground under the irrigators, which farm managers could monitor daily to inform irrigation decisions. But this system required more active management, was very time consuming to use, and often led to inconsistent results.
Dairy Holdings needed one, standardised, automated, online, easily accessible, and transparent soil moisture monitoring system with data captured from across all of its irrigated farms. This would guide optimum water use for the pasture and allow for benchmarking to drive best practice on its farms. This is when CropX stepped in. Initially, three CropX soil moisture sensors were installed on one Dairy Holdings farm and trialed. Within a year, 170 CropX sensors were rolled out across Dairy Holdings farms, with another 180 to be added.
“It is a sophisticated system but is easy to use,” says Colin Glass, chief executive of Dairy Holdings. “The CropX soil sensors automatically send data from the soil to a cloud-based platform and our farm managers use an app to see what is happening at each site with an easy-to-read visual graph which tells them when to irrigate or not.
“The CropX system not only uses AI to guide decision making, it also helps us see any anomalies or trends as well as benchmark performance between farms.”
Managing Director of CropX New Zealand, Eitan Dan, says that the CropX solution provides insights for farmers to make proactive management decisions. “This is data driven farming which automises decision making to optimise pasture growth. The models constantly adapt to the pasture’s stage of growth and to the changing conditions of the soil and weather. Our planning and reporting tools allow farmers to use detailed maps to record and schedule farm activities and monitor pasture health and growth.”
“CropX has provided us with simplicity at scale,” says Colin from Dairy Holdings. “The CropX technology turns something complex into something we can understand, it is consistent, it allows for more confident decision making, and brings greater transparency across our farms. This means our farm managers can learn from each other to further enhance efficiencies and we can take a standarised approach to data management and reporting.” “The next step,” says Eitan, “is to learn even more from the soil so that we can continue the journey to sustainable farming in New Zealand.”