Technology boosts efficiency and enhances environment

Making informed decisions using technology has created more productive land use for farms while reducing their environmental impact, according to Eyrewell farmer Mike Smith.

When Mike and his family began their farming partnership in 2010, one of their first tasks was to boost soil fertility, along with adding soil moisture monitors, soil temperature monitors, and flow metres.

Mark Smith, his daughter and farm dog

Soil testing made easy

“We wanted to know where we were sitting with our soil types, soil fertility and soil moisture holding capabilities to make really well-informed decisions. A lot of farms were only testing selected blocks of land, but we decided to test every single paddock individually to get the best results.”

As a result of the testing, Mike noticed that the side of the farm where effluent was being spread had much more organic matter and better water holding qualities. He then added an irrigation system to the other side of the farm to improve soil quality.

“With our individual approach to soil testing each paddock gets exactly what’s needed and that’s better for the bottom line and the environment.

“It’s much more common now. Why would you apply excess fertiliser when you don’t need it? We don’t want it going into our streams and we don’t want to waste money.”

Having accurate information is vital for Mike who says that advances in technology have revolutionised farming.

“Any time of the day I can check exactly what’s happening on my farms using an app on my phone. We can break everything down into small details to build up an exact picture of what’s happening.”

Benefits of modern technology

Mike believes the general public isn’t aware of how accurate modern technology is, particularly when it comes to irrigation. He sees this as contributing to the rural-urban divide but believes positive interactions can help people to reach common ground.

“A few weeks ago, I saw a woman taking photos of an irrigator running on a rainy day. I stopped and had a chat with her. She thought the irrigator shouldn’t be running because it was raining. I whipped out my phone and was able to show her the soil moisture levels in real time so she could see why the irrigation was running.

“She said she had no idea that we were using that level of technology. Let’s show people the facts and share what’s really happening on farms. Things have changed so rapidly that most people don’t know what modern farming actually looks like.”

Farm Environment Plans

Mike has a favourable view of Farm Environment Plans (FEPs) and the audit process which he says helps him fine tune on-farm processes.

“For us, it was a matter of making some small tweaks and doing more record keeping. It’s important to be constantly improving and we’ve really stepped up our technology so we can prove that every irrigation event is justified.

“We’ve also got a great relationship with WIL. It’s really important to stay involved and to work closely together because we put a lot of trust in each other.”

Raising the bar for farming is another positive aspect for Mike. He says that there is no way that you can survive as a farmer today without investing heavily in technology.

“The days of being a mediocre farmer are gone. We embrace technology because we know that it ultimately saves us money and helps us improve the environment. It gives us the confidence in our facts and figures.”

Rebuilding relationships

Mike sees a bright future for farming in New Zealand and hopes that different groups will find common ground to allow farmers and the public to rebuild their relationships.

“I want my kids to go farming one day and I want them to feel proud to be farmers. I see us as custodians of the land. We’ve taken this land from a dry block to fertile ground which is productive.

“We need to get closer together and I think we can do that by showing the facts and figures to prove what we’re doing and how much of a positive impact technology is having on farming and the environment.”