NZ leads the world in pasture-based dairy production – and in producing much of the precision farming technology that goes with it, like the smart monitoring equipment and information services of Feilding-based FarmWorks Precision Farming Systems.
FarmWorks founder and Chief Executive Colin McFadzean says the company now has 85% of the world market for electronic pasture meters as farmers from Europe to South America strive to emulate New Zealand's success in grass-fed dairying. The FarmWorks meter automatically records the length of sward each time the farmer pushes it onto the soil surface, as he or she strolls across the paddock. The unit will then electronically calculate the dry matter available for livestock feed.
Plate meters for the manual measurement of grass growth have been around for decades, but FarmWorks launched its electronic version in 2007. Export sales have built since Colin and his team took the product to trade shows in the United States: Word-of-mouth, trade media advertising and FarmWorks' online presence have brought growing demand for the units, assembled in Feilding and sold offshore only via the web. "New Zealand grassland farming is taking off internationally and this is really helping develop our business," says Colin.
FarmWorks has joined GS1 for numbering and bar coding on meters as now packaged for sale at home, off the shelves of major farm supply stores.
In fact, the hand-held meter (and its accompanying offer of P-Plus software) is among the company's least sophisticated technologies for the fast-evolving world of precision farming. FarmWorks has a range of solutions for farmers who want to gather and analyse data on every aspect of their operations. Included is another form of pasture meter that is mounted on an ATV and uses ultra sound pulses to measure the sward: The data is wirelessly transmitted back to the farm office computer as the farmer rides across each paddock.
In mid 2011, FarmWorks launched a web portal for farmers to hold, analyse and share their data - another world first for New Zealand.
AgHub is the first open-source portal for farm businesses, and it is available to farmers here and around the world. They can use it to access FarmWorks tools or those of any other supplier or partner. "The farmer decides who they want on AgHub with them as an extension of the on-farm management system ... any product or service they want on there can join, including those of our competitors," says Colin. "We have a total focus on providing the solution ... the good night's sleep, not just the mattress!"
AgHub enables better management of just about every aspect of farming, from pasture growth and effluent spreading, to stock feeding and animal health treatments, to expenditure and financial performance.
For FarmWorks, it is further extension of the first services offered by Colin McFadzean when he and son Chris founded it in 1996. The focus was on GPS mapping of farms for greater control of irrigation and effluent spreading (both, of course, remain critical today). Colin - a self-described agricultural markets entrepreneur - developed the company after success with an electric fencing business. Early in 2011, Ballance Agri-Nutrients invested in FarmWorks and became a 51% equity partner with the McFadzeans.