Will farmers go hands-free on pasture assessment?
5 September 2018
The value of a regular farm walk for pasture assessment is well known. Now technology is opening up hands-free pasture assessment to more farmers, by saving them time and making data assessment easier, as DairyNZ’s Brian Dela Rue explains.
How are farmers measuring up?
DairyNZ’s 2018 technology survey (see pages 8 and 9) showed 45 percent of farmers are using pasture measurement technologies, while 52 percent use visual assessment (‘eye-o-meter’) for the farm walk. The measurement method isn’t as important as the accuracy and frequency, and how the data is used.
Farmers have told us the difference between good and great pasture management is about one week, indicating timeliness of decision-making is critical. Yet only 41 percent of farmers measure farm pasture covers weekly in spring and 42 percent of farmers record the measurements in software where the data can easily be used tactically and strategically.
New technology is changing the landscape. There are improvements on the old favourites: plate meters, sward sticks, and tow-behinds with Bluetooth connectivity and apps to automatically upload paddock data to software. Some of these tools come with global positioning systems (GPS) so you can link paddock pasture data to your farm map.
Also, emerging this year is farm-wide pasture measurement by satellite, or using a robotic tow-behind to populate your feed wedge or farm map with the data, without you slipping on your gumboots. Of course, that doesn’t mean getting into the paddocks to check pre-grazing covers and post-grazing residuals is any less important.
Pasture management software is getting simpler to use. With a growing number of options, from simple to advanced, it’s easier than ever to find something that fits with your decision making. Using tactical tools like a Feed Wedge and DairyNZ’s Spring Rotation Planner will help keep you on track when pasture growth rates and covers fluctuate. Comparing whole-season paddock dry matter (DM) performance will lead to paddock improvements, including pasture renewal rates, drainage and soil fertility. Some of DairyNZ’s Tiller Talk farmers have found the gap between their best- and lowest-performing paddocks is as much as six tonnes of DM/hectare.
Pocketing the profit
The value of closing the gap between current annual pasture harvest and the farm’s potential – around $300 extra profit for every extra tonne of DM harvested/year– can be quite an eye-opener. We recommend you take a fresh look at how improved pasture management, possibly using modern technologies, can help you pocket a good share of this profit.
Find out more about pasture management at dairynz.co.nz/pasture-management
Image from LIC’s SPACE (Satellite Pasture and Cover Evaluation) service.
Brian Dela Rue
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