Clean water has become a key issue for New Zealand, with both farmers and city dwellers being challenged to change their habits and to consider the impact of their decisions.
And, while land-based farmers feel they’ve borne the brunt of new legislation to reduce their impact on waterways, many are demonstrating they’re not only conscious of environment – they’re already implementing more eco-friendly farming practices voluntarily.
So, we’re incredibly excited to have just completed a complex farm installation that monitors multiple parameters across the farms entire ecosystem, this will give the farmer the data and tools he needs to get on top of this legislation and set the benchmark for farm management of the future.
Farmers work with live creatures that have a biological impact on the environment, but on the flipside, the health and condition of those creatures is directly related to the health of the ecology of the place they live.
To make it even more complicated, very little historical data is available for farmers to benchmark against. And while farmers can manage what they add to their own farms, they cannot control what is done upstream, or what happens naturally.
Most farmers already know that they need to measure nitrates. They need to understand what the soil moisture is, they need to understand what the weather is doing. But until now, accurately and economically measuring that data has been impossible for the average farmer.
So, with this dairy farm installation we included a number of sensors designed to give real, live data on the actual conditions on the farm.
There’s a stream that goes through the farm – so here, we placed sensors to measure water parameters as the stream enters the property and as the stream leaves the property. This will enable us to paint an accurate picture of what’s been added on the journey through the farm.
Our sensors take measurements of Temperature, Electrical Conductivity, Dissolved Oxygen, pH/RD and Nitrate to give a good indication of general water health. We are also installing Hydrometrics at a groundwater site – a well about 10 meters deep, looking at what the nitrate levels in the groundwater are under the water table inside of a bore.
And in conjunction with the nitrate sensor, we also have a reference-based weather station, which is very accurate providing other types of weather information like rainfall and precipitation, including wind direction, wind speed, temperature and solar radiation etc.
We’re also measuring effluent flow and we can measure water flow as well. Measuring how many litres are going through the effluent pump or through the effluent station from the effluent pond. And the effluent machines already have a GPS tracker on them, so we know how many litres per minute have been spread onto a particular area.
So, what to do with this data?
Each client of Adroit gets a tenant install of the Adroit platform to manage multiple devices, connectivity and sensor data. The platform is, in my opinion, one of the most important parts of the installation – it understands a device is online, collects metered data from the device and stores it into a database… Then, using semantic groups we clean the data and display it in a dashboard tool in our group platform or a reporting engine. Or, we also have an API which allows a farmer to pull the data from our platform into another kind of data analytics type service, a SQL server or any tool that you might use in order to analyse it.
The platform can also can trigger emails or push notifications to the farmer’s phone with information about anything that might have reached a threshold- too high or too low. And, in the future, we will be able to go a step further, automating responses for example, to turn on a fan or a pump as required.
How does that empower the farmer?
The important thing to know is that we’re not just looking for subtle day to day changes in water quality. The process takes much longer than that for a change on the farm to be reflected in water conditions, with a lot of the actions on a farm happening season-by-season, if not, year-by-year basis.
What we’re looking for is patterns, so that the farmer can then make changes to the amount of fertiliser used or changing different farming processes. And slowly the farmer can learn what makes a positive or negative effect on his land so that he can make better decisions.
The soil moisture of the ground is incredibly important when it comes to effluent for example. With our system, the farmer can see what the effect of spreading is now and then in six months’ time try it again, but subtly changed according to the results of the previous year.
And not every response by the farmer needs to be mechanical. It may be smarter planting, or restoration of wetlands that makes a difference, but you can’t know that without measurement.
When you understand from a science perspective of where things are going, it is incredibly empowering.
Most farmers these days are very switched on and constantly doing audits and working with regional councils to have better practices on their farm. So we expect most farmers will want to log in and check their data on a daily basis, while others will just want to set it and forget it until they receive alerts when things are outside of their threshold levels.
In which case, if you use the Adroit platform app on your phone or your iPad, you can click on the push notification and go straight to a gauge and see exactly what’s happened on the farm.
The greater good
Once a farmer is armed with good data, it changes how they work with regions and authorities – able to contribute to the creation of new standards and processes. With this first installation, we were dealing with the Taranaki Regional Council to provide us with the expected thresholds of each sensor, so we were able to build the gauges and give them the right information.
Some regions, for example, are moving toward the requirement that if you pull a certain amount of water for your farm from a stream, or groundwater bore, you will be required to do live reporting. And we’re going to see more and more of that happening in future, with regional councils collaborating with farmers to work out the environmental effects on the entire catchment.
From there, it will be possible to drill down and work out which are the farms that are producing the pollution or the issues, and targeting those farms and helping them make the micro-changes that will change their environmental profile.
Unfortunately, farmers end up taking the brunt of negative media around nitrate leaching. And in some cases it might not even be the farm causing the effects – there may be other natural or historical environmental factors playing a role, but this makes it even more important for farmers to understand what’s happening on their farm and make sure that they’re not adding to negative environmental effects.
So how quickly will this new technology make a difference for the farmer and the region?
The results of what’s happening with nitrates, will take months to years, not weeks to days. It’s about capturing the data and getting the picture of what’s happening right now, and then start making small micro changes over the next six to 12 months and seeing what those effects have.
Some of them might only take five years to come into effect, but by measuring it we can understand what’s happening now and where the changes are going.
So, in summary, while this technology is essential for the farming of the future, it’s actually for the farmers of the now. The technology Adroit is producing is effective and easy to install right now.
It’s time for technology to ride to the rescue and help our nation’s food producers to protect our agricultural environments for future generations and also to show consumers and customers around the world just how well they’re doing.