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GIS-Based Fertiliser Spreading Optimises New Zealand’s Nutrient Budget

Abstract: Protecting the environment by optimising the precision application of fertilisers is now a reality for New Zealand farmers, thanks to a GIS/GPS-driven (geographic information system / global positioning system) solution developed jointly by Ravensdown, New Zealand’s largest manufacturer and distributor of fertilisers, and Eagle Technology Group.

Protecting the environment by optimising the precision application of fertilisers is now a reality for New Zealand farmers, thanks to a GIS/GPS-driven (geographic information system / global positioning system) solution developed jointly by Ravensdown, New Zealand’s largest manufacturer and distributor of fertilisers, and Eagle Technology Group. Not only can farmers minimise the amount of potentially harmful runoff of fertilisers into streams and waterways, but they can also reduce their total expenditures of fertilisers by up to 10% per annum with Ravensdown’s hi-tech solution.

“Implementing our new precision fertiliser application system has provided a number of benefits for us and for our customers,” says Mark McAtamney, CIO at Ravensdown.  “In addition to the conservation aspects, the system accurately records where and how much fertiliser has been applied to a certain area. We can merge this information with digital orthophotos and our customer relationship databases to provide a vivid picture of our client’s overall soil sustainability.”

A key concept in New Zealand agriculture is the ‘nutrient budget’ which measures all of a farm’s nutrient inputs and outputs including fertilisers, feeds and farm produce. Ravensdown’s new GIS-based system helps farmers optimise their nutrient budget and ensure that their soils receive just the right amount of fertilisers to help them maximise their efficiency.

Ravensdown selected ESRI GIS software and Eagle Technology Group as their implementation partner after a formal selection process. “We had a very good idea of what we wanted to achieve,” says McAtamney, “and, with the help of an outside GIS consultancy firm, we prepared a comprehensive ‘Request for Proposals’ that spelled out our current capabilities, infrastructure and functional requirements. After a thorough review of all the responses, we felt Eagle and ESRI had the right mix of software, expertise and experience to deliver the results we required. We were especially impressed with the market leadership position of both ESRI and Eagle in New Zealand.”

Eagle and Ravensdown collaborated closely during the implementation process. “Even though the final system incorporated some complex technologies - GIS, GPS, wireless transmission and the internet / intranet -  as well as data from various sources,” says Peng Aik Lim, National GIS Account Director at Eagle, “building the application went extremely well. Ravensdown’s system utilises ESRI’s ArcGIS Server, Spatial Database Engine (ArcSDE), ArcIMS (internet map server) and ArcGIS Explorer. Once the raw spatial and attribute data is captured from the GPS transceivers on the spreader trucks it is transmitted wirelessly to Ravensdown’s facility where it is processed and loaded into the system in near real-time.”

Ravensdown had already equipped a number of their fertiliser application trucks with GPS-controlled guidance systems and spreaders that captured location, fertiliser and spreading data. “In essence, our GIS solution took this data that was already being collected and provided a map-based display capability,” says Lim. “The fertiliser application data are represented as a series of colour-coded ‘snail trails’ that are overlaid on the map, giving a very good representation of the process.”

An additional benefit is that the system can be used as evidence of ‘proof of placement’ to demonstrate that the fertiliser has been spread in a manner consistent with best environmental practices.

Another advantage of Ravensdown’s system is it’s accessibility. “Once the data has been uploaded and processed,” says McAtamney, “our field staff can log-on to the system from a remote location via the internet. They can call up a customer’s farm, see the results of earlier soil tests, see what types of fertilisers have been applied and then make a recommendation on which type of fertilisers might be most appropriate. Our call centre staff have access to the same information and can immediately access this information from CRM system, again in a map format. This gives them all the information they need to resolve most phone queries from our clients. We can also print out hard copies as well and email, FAX or send the maps to clients as appropriate.”

Eagle used the development capabilities available in ArcGIS Server to embed the map interface in Ravensdown’s CRM system. “Ravensdown wanted seamless access to the spatial and attribute data,” says Lim, “so we used the .NET framework to build an interactive map viewer that the call centre staff could access with a click of the mouse. The call centre staff can query the database, manipulate the display and print or fax hard copy maps. We’ll use this same model to expand the system to internet-based users in the future.”

Ravensdown has had an ongoing programme of using geospatial technology to improve services to clients. “Our Digital Farm Mapping service combines orthophotos from Terralink and agricultural farm management software from AgResearch to support our clients,” says McAtamney. “Our fertiliser spreading application complements this mapping service and gives us even more capabilities to expand in the future.”

Ravensdown is planning to build on this foundation. “Eventually we want to enable our clients to log into an enhanced system from their own internet browsers,” says McAtamney. “We also want to incorporate GIS into our quoting system to calculate the road distance between our depots and the fields to be fertilised. The distance is a significant component of the cost to our clients. We are just scratching the surface when it comes to developing further applications for the system. The GIS team Eagle has been instrumental in helping us understand the potential and putting these ideas into action. With GIS, the sky’s the limit.”

Why Ravensdown selected Eagle Technology Group and ESRI

  • Market leadership both globally and in New Zealand
  • Proven track record in delivering GIS solutions on time and to budget
  • Right mix of software, expertise & experience

Benefits for Ravensdown

  • Reduces potentially-harmful runoff by optimising the precision application of fertilisers
  • Provides evidence of ‘proof of placement’ to demonstrate that the fertiliser has been spread in a manner consistent with best environmental practices
  • Records nutrient history of a physical block of land for evaluation of fertiliser efficacy and for ongoing block management
  • Improves call centre responses via map-based interface

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