Dairy farmers visiting Fieldays could see a number of highly practical innovations to make their and their herds' lives easier.
The winner of the prototype section in the Fieldays Innovation Awards went to SpringArm Products for the invention of a water trough ballcock arm that won't break, but instead flexes under pressure, saving farmers water, time, money, and perhaps most importantly, stress.
Te Awamutu dairy farm manager, Ric Awburn, was sick of water troughs needing repairs so two years ago he decided to come up with a ballcock arm which simply wouldn't break.
He also realised it needed to be animal welfare friendly and to fit in with existing systems. He took the spring off the stand of one of his children's two-wheeler motorbikes and added it to a ballcock arm by chopping it in half.
"We've used these arms in troughs on our farm for 12 months and haven't had one leak due to overflowing troughs, a huge relief," he says.
"Water leaks waste valuable water, cause mud and flooding and incur extra pumping costs. We think the SpringArm can help stop that."
And that was exactly the feedback he received from the many farmer visitors to his and wife Marianne's Fieldays stand.
Halter, a fenceless farming company, was showing its solar-powered smart collar. This is fitted to a dairy cow and paired with a simple app that allows farmers to remotely shift, virtually fence and proactively monitor their cows' health, feed and behaviour.
Founder and chief executive Craig Piggott designed Halter with a vision to reinvent farming to benefit cows, farmers and land. By automating some of the most critical tasks in farming, it's unlocked a new way for farmers to work and live. It reduces both time and labour requirements, saving up to 20 hours a week, and increases production, animal welfare and sustainability standards.
The collars enable unprecedented connectedness to a farmer's biggest asset by collecting data at a rate of over 11 million data points a day, giving a highly accurate picture of herd health. That, combined with Halter's proprietary machine-learning algorithm, Cowgorithm™, creates a custom behavioural baseline for each cow. Changes to this baseline can show the farmer whether a cow is on heat or sick, sending an alert straight to a farmer's phone.
Farmers currently using Halter in the Waikato say it allows them to better optimise their herd's welfare by giving them the ability to focus on individual cows. They can split herds into multiple smaller mobs, grouping them by feed intake requirements, so cows receive precisely the right amount of feed to stay in the best condition. And running these multiple mobs doesn't mean more time to shift cows to and from the milking shed as with Halter, farmers can schedule the second mob to arrive for milking as the first leaves.
Halter plans to expand to other rural areas across New Zealand later this year.
A simple but very time-saving idea came in the form of Milking by Time (MbT). It's billed as a milking shed row timer that helps farmers apply an efficient milking routine which is good for them, their staff and their herd. The large, easy to read digital timer display can be quickly fitted in herringbone or rotary milking sheds with the most efficient milking time set by a mobile app. This is a new approach to implementing the DairyNZ MaxT process which leads to shorter milkings, better teat health and less over-milking.
The display counts the time up or down, changing colour from green to red 30 seconds before the cups should be removed from cows' teats. By milking to a set time it's easier to train and maintain simple milking shed routines with cows, as a result spending less time standing on concrete and more time in the paddock eating.
The first prototype was released in February last year and since then around 40 farmers throughout the country using 20-aside herringbones up to 60 bail rotaries have trialled Mbt. They've reported efficiency gains of from 45 to one hour and 30 minutes less spent milking. Those new to milking don't have to spend time walking up and down checking as to when cups need to come off so can pay more attention to tasks such as teat spraying.
It costs $1400, is Apple and Android compatible and allows farmers to review data from up to 32 previous milkings.
Ingenious ways to outwit pests
Farmers are always looking for better ways to keep pests under control and there were two innovative ideas at Fieldays designed to deliver them just that.
Matt Way, founder of Econode, believes in empowering conservation with technology. He entered his SmartTrap for rats which he's trialled on Great Barrier Island for the last two years, in the Innovation Awards. It's a low-cost solution for monitoring traps in remote locations where it's hard to check regularly.
He'd worked in the oil and gas industries in Asia but moving to Great Barrier he linked up with Scott Sambell in a local initiative to help rid the island of one of its biggest problems.
The wireless monitoring system they designed uses Low Power Wide Area Network (LoRawAN) internet of things meaning it can be incorporated into most existing traps. The components are enclosed in a weatherproof case with four alkaline AA batteries giving years of power. When the trap is sprung a signal is sent to a base station using the radio network then uploaded to the internet so operators can be notified by email, text or smartphone.
It's already being used by a number of councils around the country and its circuit board used has been adapted by Auckland Council to monitor kauri dieback. He's also had a prototype of a bait dispenser on show which will squeeze out small amounts of a toxin over a two-week period, removing the need for it to be constantly replenished.
Shane Hyde from Kaeo, Northland invented the enviroMate 100 which can be programmed to deliver pre-feed or poison without any human involvement for up to 21 days. As it can target multiple species, trappers can cover a much bigger area.
It's NZ's first electronically assisted pest-control tool, thought up by Shane on the job trapping possums. He showed it off at Fieldays seven years ago, finding a business partner who helped commercialise it. Three years later his company, Ecoland, used the enviroMate 100 on over 400ha. Results showed a 52 per cent wax tag index (WTI) at the start and 7.5 per cent at the finish, a very successful possum control operation compared with a control area. Shane said not only is fur recovery in low-density possum areas made more economic but boundary control is dramatically improved. A single enviroMate100 can outperform 10 kill traps in the same immediate area, he believes. And its German manufacturing means it's very robust making it suitable for even the harshest environments.
Answers from info-tech
It's all very well installing the latest technology on-farm but increasingly farmers are looking for more efficient ways of collating the information generated to put it to greater use. In the Innovation Hub at Fieldays two companies were showing off their answers.
CropX was founded in New Zealand six years ago after initial work carried out by Landcare Research. It moved to Israel becoming a leader in soil sensing and agricultural analytics then in September last year it acquired Regen. This New Zealand company was founded in 2010 and specialises in cloud-based, precision effluent and irrigation decision support tools. Large South Island dairy farmer, Dairy Holdings, has been using the sensors for the last three years which are now available through CropX.
They're robust and low-cost, taking only five minutes to install. They'll then start transmitting information to the farmer's laptop or mobile phone to let them know, based on recent rainfall or irrigation, whether it's too wet to put more effluent on their paddocks, so they keep within the terms of their environmental consent.
Leaching of otherwise valuable nutrients can be eliminated, fertiliser use is cut, labour is reduced by not having to physically monitor soil conditions and perhaps most importantly there's the peace of mind of knowing exactly what's happening thanks to the clear graphs generated. The sensors are self-powered, using long-lasting rechargeable batteries.
Geo Data Solutions (GDS) based in the Bay of Plenty and Northland was showing how data from a variety of devices installed around a farm can be collated for ease of use. It's partnered with Australian company, Environmental Weather Systems (EWS) which specialises in the design and manufacturing of internet of things transmitters, including one which can quickly switch between satellite and cellular coverage.
Reliable telemetry technology can be retrofitted to existing systems and connected via the Iridium network which ensures service is available even in the most remote areas. A single dashboard can bring together information on effluent tank levels, soil moisture and from its automatic weather station so farmers can see at a glance their interaction. By simply logging in they are able to receive real-time information generated from sturdy sensors run through solar panels, which means they can be placed in hard to get to parts of their farm.