Farmers wanted to help NIWA

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The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research has developed new tools that can help farmers decide when to irrigate or fertilise. But it needs farmers to test out the tools to ensure they are as practical and easy to use as possible.

The first new tool is called NIWA IrriMet and will be demonstrated at the NIWA stand in the main pavilion at this year’s National Agricultural Fieldays. IrriMet follows the successful launch of FarmMet at last year’s Fieldays.

 FarmMet is a tailored weather forecasting tool that provides accurate up-to-date forecasts specific to individual properties. It works by capturing data from climate stations closest to an individual farm and using that to tailor a forecast to farmers delivered straight to their computer.

IrriMet also taps into this same data which is fed in real time to NIWA’s supercomputer, combined with high-resolution weather forecasting and soil information to generate a six-day forecast of soil moisture and leaching potential.

It tells farmers when and how much to irrigate, what the leaching potential is and how overall growth is tracking.

Dr Jochen Schmidt, NIWA’s Chief Scientist Environmental Information, says: “We’ve got the science sorted and we’re now up to working out the best way to translate it into information that will help farmers make better operational decisions.

“We’re looking for farmers from all around New Zealand who irrigate their properties. What we need is help and feedback on our trial product – particularly on how the information is presented.”

Dr Schmidt says farmers shouldn’t have to rely on guesswork when scheduling irrigation but should be able to make informed decisions.

Extensive research has gone into finding out what weather and soil moisture information is of most benefit to enable them to plan effectively and the next stage was presenting it the most user-friendly way possible.

“The potential benefits are huge,” Dr Schmidt says.

“Famers can reduce power, maintenance and operational costs and if water isn’t needed, it can be left where it is or reallocated.”

NIWA is also keen to talk to farmers whose farms are located in a gap in NIWA’s weather and soil moisture monitoring network to discuss the possibility of installing a NIWA IrriMet station on their property.

Data from the station would be fed into NIWA’s national database and be available online.

Free access to the trial version of NIWA’s second new tool, a pasture growth forecaster, is also being offered at Fieldays.

“This is all about putting information at farmers’ fingertips to help them maximise farm profit. That’s why it’s vital that we get their input our design and development,” Dr Schmidt says.

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