by Sarah Elliot, Lindsay New Zealand
Growsmart® Precision VRI with FieldNET is the ultimate add-on for easy and cost efficient irrigation, New Zealand sheep and beef farmer Hamish Mackenzie says.
“It’s simple, easy to use and gives you heaps of flexibility. I can sort and upload a watering plan and set it going at the push of a button,” Mackenzie says.
At Kyeburn Station, an extensive 3300ha (8,154 acres) sheep and beef property, 260ha (642 acres) of flats are irrigated. Half the area is watered by a 570 meter (1,780 feet) Zimmatic center pivot. It was installed with Growsmart Precision VRI in 2015, and in November 2016 it was upgraded with FieldNET, a remote communication tool making it possible to control Growsmart Precision VRI from any internet-capable device. The limited cell phone coverage means Hamish is not set up for complete remote control, but FieldNET has given him greater flexibility over irrigation. He says the new updated system is far superior to its predecessor.
“I do all of my irrigation plans on the home computer. If we had reliable cell phone coverage, I’d be able to send them remotely to the pivot. Because we don’t, I put them on a memory stick, which I then plug into the pivot panel of the irrigator. It’s really simple and straightforward,” he says.
This season the pivot watered 37ha (91 acres) of Relish red clover-based pasture; 28ha (69 acres) of lucerne; 12ha (3o acres) of barley; 17ha (42 acres) of swedes; and 7ha (17 acres) of fodder beet. The patchwork of different crops, each with different watering requirements throughout the season, could have made irrigation planning and management a headache. But the combination of Growsmart VRI and FieldNET made it surprisingly straightforward.
“You can add in as many different fields as needed, and alter the watering rates on each or keep them out of the rotation as required. That’s the beauty of VRI and FieldNET, it’s so easy to alter things,” Mackenzie says.
Installation of FieldNET was about $1,000 on top of the Growsmart VRI, but he reckons he’s easily recouped the cost – and saved water. Efficient use of water is a number one priority, given the region’s 500mm (20 inches) annual rainfall and extended summer dry periods. Water is taken from the Kyeburn River, from a main race, which Hamish shares with four farms. He has a 52l/s allocation but over the last year the combination of Growsmart Precision VRI and FieldNET has reduced pivot water use to about 43l/s.
“I’ve been able to cut back the percentage flow through the pivot in summer and we’ve been able to use the extra if needed for k-line irrigation,” he says. “Also we’ve saved money, because we’re not having to pump as much water, and we don’t need as much pressure.”
Irrigation development at Kyeburn Station started after completion of tenure review in 2009.
“We surrendered 4700ha (11,613 acres) of hill country to the Crown in 2009, so we had to intensify what we were doing,” Mackenzie says.
The goal was to maintain the same number of stock units by ramping up production on flat country. They purchased some neighbouring land that was irrigated and added another 100ha (247 acre) pivot. There is now 260ha (642 acres) under irrigation, with 180ha (445 acres) covered by two Zimmatic pivots, one of which has Growsmart Precision VRI and FieldNET.
“I will sometime in the future retro fit the older Zimmatic pivot with Growsmart Precision VRI as well,” Mackenzie says. “I think it’s really important given the push by regional councils to encourage farmers to use less water and become smarter with how they irrigate.
H2Grow is the initiative of two companies with extensive knowledge of efficient irrigation practices and enabling technologies. They hope through sharing their knowledge and expertise to be able to help growers improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the way they irrigate. It is hoped that growers gain direct economic benefits while also improving the outcomes for the environment and sustainability of farming industries as a whole.