New tool to tackle water quality on farms

September 12, 2017, Victoria University
Credit: Victoria University

A Victoria University of Wellington researcher has developed a tool that Ravensdown will use to help New Zealand farmers lower their environmental footprints and better manage nutrient loss into waterways.

Dr Bethanna Jackson from Victoria's School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences originally developed the Land Utilisation and Capability Indicator (LUCI) for application in Wales, where she has been working since 2006 on land-use interventions to help mitigate flooding and provide other environmental benefits.

With LUCI operating successfully overseas, Dr Jackson and her research team began collaborating with farmer-owned co-operative Ravensdown in 2015 to see how the tool could be applied to New Zealand farms.

As a result of this partnership, newly developed software building on the core LUCI tool will be used by Ravensdown specialists to help farmers identify 'at-risk' areas for nutrient loss.

"Managing nutrient losses on farms has been a hot topic over recent years," says Dr Jackson. "Central government, iwi, regional councils and the entire agri-sector are all grappling with this challenge and working to find effective solutions."

While applying too little fertiliser will affect the growth and nutritional value of pasture, she says, applying too much in the wrong place or at the wrong time can create an increased risk of nutrients being lost to freshwater which, among other ecological effects, might stimulate algal blooms that could damage aquatic life.

"It's not just about reducing the volume of fertiliser or the number of animals—there are also options to intercept nutrients before they get into waterways."

Dr Jackson says that in some regions, where nutrient loss is especially problematic, farmers and other community members are looking to take action as part of a collective group as waterways typically flow through or border multiple farms.

"The use of Ravensdown's bespoke version of the LUCI tool means farmers can target certain areas for mitigations, and then map the effectiveness of those mitigations in reducing farm and improving freshwater quality.

"Ravensdown is the perfect partner to help us develop this new technology as the company has the ability to take it to market where the software can really make a difference to farming and the environment."

This venture marks the beginning of a long-term relationship between Victoria University and Ravensdown, facilitated by Victoria's commercialisation office Viclink.

Ravensdown chief executive Greg Campbell says the company is driving towards a thriving, environmentally sustainable agri-sector built on partnerships that support its focus on sound science and smarter farming.

"By partnering with leading minds at science institutions such as Victoria University, we aim to reduce environmental impacts, increase production efficiency, build stronger rural communities and help the nation to prosper. The strength of our relationships and collaboration across academics, researchers, farmers and their advisors will be how we all win—enabling smarter farming for a better New Zealand."

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