Friday, 6 October 2017

New imaging system to transform hill country farming


Ravensdown has partnered with Massey University to develop Hyperceptions, a provider of cutting edge hyperspectral imaging services.

Hyperceptions uses a remote scanning tool that precisely identifies effective areas of vegetation on a farm in one flyover. The technology uses hyperspectral imaging to detect the unique signature of objects or land areas, based on a visible, near-infra-red and short-wave reflection scanned by the sensor from a plane.

Massey University purchased a Fenix Hyperspectral Imaging System with Ravensdown and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) as part of the ‘Pioneering to Precision’ Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) – the only Fenix in the Southern Hemisphere.

Flown in a fixed-wing aircraft, the Fenix records the reflectance across 620 wave bands including visible, near, short wave and infra-red. As a result of the work completed within the PGP programme, this data can be translated into maps of nutrient content and concentration. It can also be used to identify different pasture species and to classify different species of trees potentially including calculation of areas of Manuka.

The innovative technology has been trialed at Patitapu Station as part of Ravensdown’s PGP programme. Patitapu is a 2550-hectare sheep and beef farm in North Wairarapa run by Doug and Jo McKenzie.

Large areas of the windswept farm are covered in regenerating native bush and scrub blocks with 1760-hectares of effective land. The land is mixed terrain with 136-hectares flat or under cultivation with the balance mainly medium to steeper hill country. Doug and Jo are confronted with huge variability in physical resources including altitude, aspect, soil type, slope, and rainfall.

"The technology will allow us to extensively map the land and break down the farm into productive blocks for variable applications. It’s incredible to be able to get our farm information right down to a one square metre area", says Doug.

As part of the PGP project, Hyperceptions’ functionality will be made available to third parties, with priority given to Ravensdown, MPI and other associated third parties. Ravensdown’s use of the sensor in its Pioneering to Precision PGP programme has allowed Doug in the research phase to also start using the information to identify his farm’s soil fertility from the sky – a technology called AirScan.

Mike Manning, General Manager Innovation and Strategy for Ravensdown, says he is looking forward to introducing the technology (Hyperceptions and AirScan) to the agri sector.

“Working with Massey University to develop Hyperceptions and AirScan is part of our long-term goal to transform hill country farming.

“We are constantly looking at ways in which we can improve our practices. This technology will help make New Zealand agriculture more efficient and sustainable by knowing exactly where the effective areas on a farm are (available now through Hyperceptions) as well in the future the soil nutrient profile (AirScan), and targeting the fertiliser application to suit.”

Hyperceptions aims to be the recognised leader of hyperspectral sensing capability, serving New Zealand’s primary industries, government and land management agencies.

Ian Yule, Professor of Precision Agriculture at Massey University, says Hyperceptions’ remote sensor will enable New Zealand to capture unprecedented levels of data on the nutrient content of large sections of land that may have been previously inaccessible.

“This is a game changer. It’s like turning the whole of New Zealand into a living lab, where you can observe exactly what is going on and describe it in greater detail than ever before.”

The information gathered by Hyperceptions and AirScan will be fed into HawkEye®, a new software system being designed to provide deep insights and decision support tools for New Zealand farmers in the area of nutrient management and farm productivity.