The final day of IrrigationNZ's 2018 Conference last week focused on the role of technology in helping farmer's make good decisions about water use and informing consumers about how their food is grown, as well as a future strategy for the irrigation sector.
Keynote speaker Felicity Turner of innovative Australian Agribusiness The Yield spoke about how technology could help meet the world's requirement to produce 60 percent more food for its growing population by 2050.
"We will need to produce more food from the same land area. We need to produce the right quantity of food at the right time," she says. "Currently we throw away a lot of food."
The Yield has developed software which uses on farm sensor nodes which transmit data every 15 minutes to a gateway. Data is then analysed using automated systems and by scientists to produce a range of advice which helps farmers decide when to irrigate and how much water to apply, as well as when to harvest, spray and plant. The systems can also forecast frost and the company is developing tools to predict crop yields. The software can be used across a range of geography and crop types.
"New decision support technologies are the future of irrigation and it's good to see there are a growing number of these solutions now available in NZ," said Irrigation NZ chair Nicky Hyslop.
New Zealand animation pioneer Ian Taylor also addressed the Conference. Ian has been at the forefront of animation innovation internationally for a wide range of uses. His company's animation work has included America's Cup graphics, Formula One Racing, cricket, golf and advertising, where he helps convey complex information in a visual format that people can easily understand.
Mr Taylor sees a huge opportunity for visual data to be used in agriculture and irrigation. "On farm visual data can be used to help farmers use water more efficiently and become more profitable. In the city people need to understand where their food comes from and visual data can also help show this."
Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor attended the Conference dinner to share his thoughts on the future of irrigation.
"My vision is for a resilient primary sector striving for value over volume and this means large-scale irrigation schemes must be environmentally and economically viable on their own, with vital regional infrastructure supported by the Government. Smaller, local and environmentally sustainable water storage schemes would help more of our regions better prepare for the future," he says.
The Minister said that New Zealand is the best country in the world at farming but that this needed to be backed through a story of integrity, and that negative perceptions about irrigation needed to be addressed. He added that the way water was used in Central Otago was smart and targeted. The LAWA report indicated that waterways were improving but there were still some issues to be addressed.
Irrigation New Zealand Chief Executive Andrew Curtis outlined a future strategy for the irrigation sector in closing. Food consumers were becoming more conscious of where food is sourced from, creating a need for sustainable production that is traceable back to the farm. Automation will become increasingly used, and plant-based options will replace some traditional protein sources.
Water scarcity will become a more pressing issue globally. In New Zealand although rainfall is relatively plentiful by world standards, it would demand that irrigators become more water efficient and new technologies need to continue to evolve to assist this.
He said there were still water quality and quantity issues to addressed, but there has been a shift to farming within limits where the achievement of better environmental outcomes was rapidly becoming part of the everyday business of running the farm.