New Zealand farming is a pastoral based system. The growth and utilization of grass as a feed for dairy cows, sheep and cattle is the major determinant of profit for farmers. The challenge for farmers is how best to grow and utilize, without wastage, as much grass as possible to feed their animals.
Measuring the total amount of grass on our farms, in each paddock and the growth rate of grass is typically done weekly, or every 10 days. However, the accuracy of measurement (some farmers use platemeters, tow behinds, or their ‘eyeometer’ to measure) and the time it takes to measure a whole farm ( eg 300Ha with 80+ paddocks can take 3+ hours with a fast system) can prevent this measurement being done accurately, or at all, during busy periods in the springtime.
The season or weather patterns also affect the nutrients in the grass, for example the lack of sunshine this spring meant grass had very low protein levels, which transfers through to lower milk production. Some farmers get herbage tests done on pasture. But this takes time to send to a lab and is costly, and with changing weather patterns the results can be out of date very quickly.
We want to measure and record grass growth and quality in real time so that we can better utilize pasture for feeding animals.
The major challenges are:
Measuring the quantity of grass accurately across a farm in a timely way
Measuring the quality of grass – protein, fibre (NDF, ADF) and ME (metabolisable energy) through the season in a timely and cost-effective way
Planning which paddocks to graze on what date to maximize the growth and nutrient potential of the grass. (rye grass should be grazed when it has 3 leaves to maximize growth potential and nutrients)
Forecasting grass supply and demand ie how fast the grass is growing vs how much the animals are eating. So that in 3 weeks time we do not have old rank grass which the animals do not like, or conversely no grass to feed them!
- Understanding which paddocks of our farm are performing or underperforming, so that performance can be improved – water, fertiliser, new grass sown, pest problem, soil structure etc.
An innovative solution to this problem would include:
Real time information provided in an app, so that farmers can check data and make decisions out on the farm.
Budgeting tool that enable the farmer to predict whether there will be a surplus or deficit of grass in the future.
It must be a robust system that can handle NZ conditions – wet and muddy, humid, hot and dry.
It should ideally be something that is simple and that a farmer with some training can maintain and fix if needed.
It should collect data through the season to help model and predict the future.
It should be simple and intuitive so that farm owners, managers and more junior farm workers can use it.
Great if it had a smart planning function which suggested which paddock cows should be grazed in each day.
The desired result is better management of grass so that our animals are better fed; better-fed animals produce more and are healthier.
It will reduce the guess-work from managing pasture, ensure better accuracy and help reduce mistakes. Farmers will feel more confident about their decisions and will be more productive and profitable. Farmers will have more time to devote to other tasks on the farm, or off it.
Better understanding of our grass growth and needs of the plant will enable farmers to use water and fertilizer more effectively; this will reduce wastage and over application, and be better for the environment.
Greater productivity on our farms will contribute to higher growth and earnings for our region and the national economy.