Research initiative to rejuvenate hill country

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An innovation programme that aims to develop precision fertiliser application for hill country is to receive government funding through the Primary Growth Partnership.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has approved co-funding of $5.13 million for the seven-year Ravensdown “Transforming Hill Country Farming” PGP programme.

This amount will be matched by the fertiliser co-operative Ravensdown, making the overall base funding for the project $10.26 million.

The new PGP programme will combine remote-sensing of soil fertility on hills with GPS-guided aerial topdressing, to improve hill country productivity and reduce nutrient runoff.

The research partners are Massey University’s Precision Agriculture Group and AgResearch.

The Ravensdown programme expects to generate $120 million a year in economic benefits to New Zealand by 2030.

“This is an excellent example of harnessing modern technology to transform farming on hill country, which is facing some serious challenges," says Scott Gallacher, MPI Deputy Director-General.

“This research partnership will help enable hill country farmers to grow more pasture and increase returns, as well as reduce the environmental effects of fertiliser application,” Ravensdown CEO Greg Campbell says.

“If we grow more pasture, our beef and sheep production will rise at a time when those farmers desperately want to reverse the gradual decline of the past years,” he says. “The challenge has been: how do you better feed those hill country soils so they can grow more grass without wasting fertiliser or degrading the environment?”

“Variability amongst hill country soils is high, and scattering a blanket of fertiliser from the skies leads to less than optimal use of precious nutrients – which is bad for farmers’ bottom line and the environment,” added Mike Manning, General Manager R&D.

The research will develop remote sensors which can scan for areas that need different amounts of fertiliser to other areas. A fertiliser plan can then be prepared and sent to the GPS-equipped topdressing planes.

“This combination of technology is a world-first. Innovations like these all add up to a great export story for New Zealand farming,” said Professor Ian Yule of Massey University.

“New Zealand has been at the forefront of the development of the use of remote sensing in agriculture for the past 10 years and this project provides the opportunity to apply that technology directly to increasing production and farm profitability while improving environmental management in the hill country,” said Professor Yule.

AgResearch will play a key role in the development of integrated systems, so the benefits will be captured by including the all-important precision application of nutrient by topdressing aircraft.

“New Zealand has been a world leader in the development of pasture measurement for the past 10 years and this project provides the opportunity to apply that technology directly to increasing production and farm profitability while improving environmental management in the hill country,” said Dr Robyn Dynes, Senior Research Scientist at AgResearch.

Meanwhile auditable proof-of-placement maps provide better information to make future decisions and demonstrate compliance with regional council regulations,” added Robyn.

The seven-year programme is planned to begin this year with the gathering of data from eight research farms which will feed into development of the systems needed to apply the fertiliser to the land.

The partners are in the process of negotiating a PGP contract, prior to programme commencement.

About Ravensdown:
As a co-operative 100% owned by farmers, Ravensdown exists to optimise soil fertility and farm profitability in a sustainable way for farmers who need to improve their productivity and lower environmental footprint. Beyond fertiliser production, we provide a comprehensive range of key farming inputs, technical advice and technologies at lowest sustainable cost delivered how, where and when they’re needed.

About the Primary Growth Partnership:
The Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) is driving the future market success of the primary industries through long-term innovation programmes that are jointly funded by government and industry. PGP is administered by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

There are 15 announced PGP programmes (of which 13 are contracted and 2 pending) as at 26 June 2013. The total PGP funding commitment from government and co-investors in these programmes is $674 million.

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