This story is appeared in the recent edition of Farmers Weekly.
Two smartphone apps are now helping Pāmu staff better manage the 4% of land it has under winter forage crops in Southland.
With almost 1700ha of winter crops that country, largely in the Te Anau Basin, represents an invaluable means of keeping stock in good condition.
But it is also a threat to the state-owned enterprise’s licence to operate if not done sensitively.
“We know the industry has a problem with winter grazing and we have been aware of it and decided to look at how best to solve it,” Ford said.
While none of the winter grazing incidents highlighted last year were on Pāmu land, development staff wanted to come up with a solution to manage the issue rather than see pressure from environmental groups ban the practice outright.
The team looked to an app-driven means to help farm managers determine what paddocks are best to select for spring cropping and a second winter-grazing app to help better manage the winter grazing process.
The staff soon found they had the skills and technical tools in-house to create two apps that have been in tried in beta version for the past year and are now systematically being rolled out across the Pāmu portfolio.
The paddock selection app was developed by Pāmu’s geospatial and soil specialists.
Using the mapping technology managers can walk around a paddock and see in real time specific conditions on the farm that influence paddock selection, including drainage features, soil types and contour.
Using the app helps them avoid making the wrong decision so early in the process and avoid sowing a paddock that makes wintering harder, messier and more risky than need be.
Managers report getting a better sense of the vulnerabilities in a paddock well ahead of making the decision, such as a slope that is not visible to the naked eye but which would have had a detrimental impact on run-off.
Choosing the right paddock for planting can be problematic in Southland, where mud is almost inevitable.
Pāmu Southland senior business manager Scott Harpham tried the app and found it useful for stock planning 18 months in advance, before planting forage crops.
“You can have a really good look at critical source areas such as low spots and hollows that collect nutrients and may form ponds in the winter months.”
A second winter grazing app involves a decision tree process for managers to use, pushing the user to look deeper into steps and mitigations to take when winter grazing. It combines visual maps, data and analysis from geographic information systems and survey technology.
“It may seem a bit of a rudimentary process but it very quickly helps farmers to make a decision on things like where to best set up a fence in a break. Because it is geospatially aware it creates a history of what action was taken in that paddock and has the ability to compare what has and has not changed,” Ford said.
A challenge for farmers under growing compliance expectations is the vacuum of solutions they face when compliance comes into play.
“Farmers want to look after the environment as much as anyone but usually there is silence around the solutions provided to them to pick up and run with once that compliance is in play.”
The Pāmu apps have been closely developed on the ground with farm staff and they are now used on 19 of its properties and are about to be rolled out more broadly.
“The one thing farmers do not want to do is to enter data twice. So this has been at the top of our mind along with ensuring the key data is easily accessible on smartphone.”
With farm environment plans taking a priority in Government freshwater standards the apps’ value will be enhanced if they can be integrated with other main farm software FarmiQ and use Overseer data already collated.
The apps represent a continual effort by Pāmu to stay astride of tech and in the process maintain appeal to potential young staff who might not have considered a career there at all tech-sexy in the past.
All Pāmu staff are now issued with iPhone 6s loaded with multiple apps including Zoom for meetings, time sheet recording, the health and safety app Safe Visit and the ability to order farm gear online.
The phones’ potential as a digital Swiss Army knife has been elevated in recent years thanks to improved connectivity of the farm network.
“Three years ago we put in our own broadband network. We had five to 10 blackspots around the farms and now have a 10mb link to every farm and redundancy built in.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic staff were having Zoom calls, sometimes with as many as 50 online and no problems.”
Pāmu is initiating discussion with DairyNZ, Fonterra and Beef + Lamb so more farmers can get the apps.
In addition to this story, Bronwyn Rodgers Pāmu’s Geospatical Services Manager (pictured above) says, “The apps we developed are easy to use and interactive, with feedback on differing options that can influence decision-making. The results sit on a cloud platform to create a record of where and what mitigating actions are employed, and this can be integrated with other farm information to enrich the farmer’s knowledge and understanding of their land.”