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Sheep and Beef Farmers Slow on Technology Uptake

July 28, 2010

Hard-hit by continuing poor returns, New Zealand’s sheep and beef farmers aren’t investing in technology even when it would improve their businesses, according to research undertaken by EIT Hawke’s Bay academic Ram Roy.

Farmers in these sectors have simply stopped spending – regardless of the merit of investing in technology, says Dr Roy, a senior lecturer in EIT’s School of Business.

Looking at specific technology that might assist farming operations, he said dairy industry uptake accounted for half the GPS-based devices sold by TracMap New Zealand, the country’s largest AgGPS provider.

Leading agricultural consultant Colin Brown established the company after identifying a gap in the market for a rugged and easy-to-use GPS guidance and mapping system. Designed in New Zealand, the agricultural and horticultural GPS guidance and proof-of-placement mapping package is also manufactured in this country.

GPS-based devices such as TracMap are used by farm contractors to gain higher productivity and efficiency in cultivating, spraying, fertilising and spreading.

“The TM mounted on a cab or tractor draws a map on the screen, which enables the driver to see the area covered and area remaining while working.”

Most users reported a 20 percent productivity gain as a result of using TracMap.

The company was initially formed with a focus on fertiliser spreading trucks, and now over half those operating in New Zealand used TracMap guidance systems. Dairy farms had become another core market, although the company only had a 3-4 percent penetration of New Zealand’s 11,000 dairy farms.
Cropping farms had a far higher uptake of GPS technology.

TracMap offered a wide range of devices for applications in irrigation control, heli-spraying and data collection in grape harvesting, Dr Roy said. But while business was growing at 10 percent a month, the company faced a big challenge in persuading farmers to adopt such sophisticated management tools.

Benefits of GPS and TracMap devices for farming included enhanced productivity, reduced costs, less stress and greater job enjoyment, targeted spraying, accurate billing, environment protection and food safety.

“Some of the barriers in adopting these technologies include lack of awareness, unclear benefits and unwillingness in cost sharing.”

Dr Roy’s research also looked at RFID – radio-frequency identification – in the farming industry.
Applications in livestock management included automated optimal feeding, the administration of drugs and supplements and automated record keeping.

“It can also monitor the temperature in the ear canal or the body of animals to check livestock health.”
The cost of compliance for the EU’s required use of RFID in the food supply chain was expected to rise to about $5-billion by 2018, with most of that amount spent on systems and tags.

“Research also suggests that legislation is driving the use of RFID for safety (with livestock and pets), for the rapid and optimal response to disease outbreaks, proof of vaccination, registration and so on.”
Australasia led the world for some RFID applications – in Australia it was a legal requirement for cattle, and tagging had been used in milk samples in New Zealand.

The world’s largest milk cooperative, Fonterra took biosecurity very seriously and had appointed system integrators for a major use of RFID for error prevention, record keeping and efficiency in New Zealand.
Fonterra had installed RFID tags on more than 14,000 vats which automatically identified the farm, as well as the vat to which the tanker was connected.

The company had never had issues with diseases such as food and mouth and BSE, but it wanted to be prepared for the possibility. An improved traceability system would allow the company to trace any significant outbreak back to the affected cows on the farm.

But in other areas, such as retail and cargo handling, both countries were lagging, said Dr Roy, and needed to benchmark against best practices elsewhere.