Empowering farmers – technology to meet GMP

Waimakariri Irrigation Limited (WIL) shareholders are benefiting from cutting-edge technology which enables them to make irrigation decisions backed up by hard data, thanks to a partnership with irrigation software provider Regen.

Eight months into the project, more than 90 percent of WIL shareholders located on the south side of the Eyre River have flow meters and soil moisture monitors installed, along with access to weather station data and irrigation scheduling recommendations.

The project, which is the only one of its kind in New Zealand, aims to ensure that all farmers within the WIL scheme will be operating at Good Management Practice (GMP) by 2020 – a benchmark used by farmers and land managers to improve production, performance and sustainable land use. GMP relating to water quality addresses issues such as nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and faecal contaminants.

Regen chief executive  Bridgit Hawkins says feedback from farmers has been positive as they are able to gain an overall snapshot of what is happening on-farm, while making irrigation decisions reinforced by hard data.

“We are able to create daily, weekly and monthly reports which provide farmers with an excellent insight into what is happening on the ground,” says Bridgit.

“This data is used to provide daily recommendations on whether to irrigate, while also providing a broader long-term view of what is happening on-farm and equipping farmers with the tools to reach GMP.”

WIL general manager Brent Walton says technology is the best way for the irrigation scheme to meet their GMP goal and to renew consent.

“We see technology as the key to continuous improvement for irrigation schemes,” says Brent. “The data being gathered by Regen allows us to demonstrate that each irrigation event is justified and provides us with the facts for our shareholders and regulators.

“By providing our farmers with the latest information on a daily basis we can empower them to make the best decisions for their farms and the environment.”

Stage two of the project, due to be completed by October 2018, will focus on WIL shareholders on the north side of the Eyre River. Once stage two is complete, Regen and WIL will hold farmer-led focus groups.

“We’re also planning a series of farm visits which will allow shareholders to engage with each other and share practical tips on using technology to achieve the best results from both an environmental and economic point of view.”

Brent adds that while farmers are being asked to do a lot within a short time-frame, investing in technology is the best way to reach GMP.

“So far, we’ve had positive feedback from our farmers. Ultimately, we will improve the environment through less nutrient loss and farmers will save money on irrigation during the shoulder seasons.

“Having certainty around when to irrigate will allow us to continue to improve irrigation efficiency, while accelerating our progress towards reaching GMP by 2020.”