Pasture growth system taking off

Big companies are investing in a pasture growth system developed by Christchurch design engineer...
Big companies are investing in a pasture growth system developed by Christchurch design engineer Richard Barton that brings in cube satellite imagery, remote sensors, micro electronics and a ground-level design. PHOTO: FARMOTE SYSTEM
Big financial backers are getting behind new technology designed by a Christchurch engineer to remove the guesswork from measuring pasture growth.

New investment from Gallagher and a fresh injection from Netherlands-headquartered Royal Barenbrug Group will go into the Farmote System to fund its wider roll-out on farms and speed up further development. The agricultural companies have put a combined $750,000 into the business.

The system designed by founder Richard Barton has combined the latest advances in cube satellite imagery, remote sensors, micro electronics and a weather-proof design to automatically record daily pasture growth on farms.

Launched in Canterbury last spring, it is now used on more than 6000 hectares of farmland.

Mr Barton said the new investment from Gallagher, and further investment from Barenbrug was an exciting development.

"This will enable us to extend our services to other parts of New Zealand this year, and to Europe in 2023. We’re also recruiting staff to accelerate our development process."

He founded Farmote five years ago, with early backing from international grass specialist Barenbrug and Sir Stephen Tindall’s K1W1 investment company.

Mr Barton said Gallagher’s long history of selling technology to farmers in New Zealand and overseas made it a welcome new shareholder.

The system automatically brings together data collected from its position with satellite imagery to give daily pasture measurements.

Each device has a hollow plastic pole, topped by a sphere the size of a tennis ball, and is mounted year-round in a paddock.

A spring mechanism was brought in after many experiments so it could pop back up with plastic nodules added to the pole to prevent cows from using it as a scratch post.

Gallagher’s Animal Management Global General Manager Lisbeth Jacobs said it had been actively hunting for something like Farmote, especially since acquiring remote fencing developer Agersens.

"We knew it would fit perfectly in the future farm eco-system we’ve been building for some time now. It’s beautifully smart technology that ticks all the boxes for us."

She said data generated by Farmote was valuable, but the real gain for farmers would lie in integrating it with other technologies.

Barenburg Global Head John Thijssen said Farmote was the only technology of its type in the world.

"Many companies sell satellite images for field monitoring. But if you dig a little bit deeper into these systems, they cannot tell the difference in absolute numbers between how much grass is growing in one field compared to another.’’

Farmote was the only one with an on-the-ground sensor that could measure the height of grass and integrate it with satellite imagery.

He said they could see a global application for the technology, particularly in Western Europe where grassland and arable crops were intensively managed.

Farmote took thousands of measurements overnight, which was combined with day-time monitoring by five-band imaging from a satellite.

The pole has solar-powered electronics and batteries and the sphere uses infra red light and optical sensors. Prongs securing it to the ground have soil moisture and temperature sensors.

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