24 Mar 2015

Aerial tool a game changer for agriculture

4:20 pm on 24 March 2015

A new aerial imaging tool is capturing the attention of the agriculture sector with its ability to provide nutrient, soil and water information about land.

Massey University bought the $500,000 imaging system from Finland for a primary growth partnership programme involving the Ministry for Primary Industries and fertiliser company Ravensdown, which aims to improve how fertiliser is applied to hill country.

The university's Professor in Precision Agriculture, Ian Yule, says the sensor, which is attached to a plane, can capture large amounts of information on the nutrient content of land. That information may have previously been inaccessible.

"We can use it to identify the nutrient concentration in pasture or any crop that we would want to look at. We can identify different plant types, different species. We think we can find the differences between cultivars and so on, just from looking at the crop from the air. It's a very fast developing technology but I think we're kind of in the forefront with it here, with the use we're trying to make of it."

Dr Yule said he believed the sensor could also capture information about water, and could be flown over catchment areas to give information to dairy farmers about where nitrogen run off is occurring.

He said the imaging tool was being eyed up by many different industries.

"It's going to be used to look at the mineralogy around Tongariro, and if there's another eruption, we can then quantify what's happening.

"We think there are a lot of uses in forestry, because it's difficult to analyse forest and find out what's going on. It's difficult to get round and observe and this can give a huge level of detail to the forest industry.

"Basically any land use that we can look at, how a natural eco system is changing .. it's almost like taking a complete lab out into the field and you can see the environment in a huge amount of detail."

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