Smart Farm Systems
As the issue of effluent compliance escalates, farmers should be asking themselves if they have smart effluent management systems on their farm. Jaiden Drought went to the Deep South to visit a company developing software that makes effluent disposal trouble free.
Councils have had a gutsful of cowboys disposing of effluent incorrectly, and as the old saying goes, the minority will spoil it for the majority.
This month I headed to Southland to discuss the very important issue of effluent management during winter in the Deep South.
The company I met with was Smart Farm Systems, located in Invercargill. Smart Farm Systems produces a farm software package using a telemetry system for farm monitoring applications, particularly when using travelling irrigators and K-Line pods. A telemetry system is an automated communications process by which data is collected from instruments located at remote or inaccessible points and transmitted to receiving equipment for measurement, monitoring, display, and recording.
What this system does is provide vital information to the farmer, either via mobile phone, computer or at the control box mounting in the cowshed, which will keep you updated with exactly what your effluent system is doing.
Richard Conroy is the General Manager and designer of Smart Farm Systems, and has been involved in creating electronic gizmos for decades, with one of his first being a foaling alarm. This was for horse owners with expectant mares; it sent a signal when the horse lay down indicating it was going into labour. Another was a conveyer operation remote, which has given a Southland sawmill 20 years of trouble free service.
Richard is a perfectionist and will not let a product leave his shop unless he is 100% happy with it, and he is the type of man who will go broke from producing goods that last forever rather than become rich from workshop repairs. Richard knows how to build products that work well and stand the test of time, which gives the buyer added confidence in the product.
His efforts over the past five years have been focused on designing a product that can monitor effluent application effectively and work precisely in the harshest environment. The first out of the shop is what he calls TIM (Travelling Irrigator Monitor), which was then followed by the KIM (K-Line Irrigator Monitor), so as to cover a cross section of effluent systems that were operational in the district – there was a system that could be adapted to each individual farmer’s setup.
Below I’ve given a breakdown of each system and the benefits, followed by how this system can be incorporated into other monitoring systems, which can help in daily farm management and reduce running costs.
Travelling Irrigator Monitor
The travelling irrigator monitor automatically monitors the travelling speed of the irrigator using a separate measuring wheel, which then sends vital information back to the control box and will automatically shut down the pump if it stops for any reason, or is moving too slowly. Before you restart the pump you should inspect the irrigator to fix any problems.
The beauty of this system (and all the Smart Farm Systems for that matter) is that it will tell you exactly what is wrong. For the TIM system, an example of what the irrigator faults and shows on the screen are: end of travel, stopped moving, moving too slow or did not move all. It tells you exactly what the problem is: either the irrigator is at the end of its cycle or is moving too slowly – probably due to pulling too much hose, or the hose could be kinked or damaged in some way. This means when you look at the system in the cowshed and realise there is a problem you know exactly what to expect when you get there, so you can have the appropriate tools to rectify the issue.
If you use the monitor correctly and move the irrigator when it has reached the end of its travel, for example, there is no way you will end up with donuts in the paddock due to the pump being automatically shut down if a problem arises. This gives existing owners piece of mind knowing they can take advantage of the lower night power rates by using a timer on their pump. When they reach the shed in the morning and the ‘Stopped by timer’ message is on the screen they know that everything is as it should be. If another message is showing they know there was a problem, but the pump has shut down and all the effluent hasn’t been pumped into one spot giving you the best of both worlds.
K-Line Irrigator Monitor
The KIM system monitors line pressure right at the end of the pipe where the pods are, rather than just out of the pump as it gives much more accurate readings. If the pressure drops too low for any reason, the K-Line monitor will stop the pump. Every time the pods are moved the KIM will re-calibrate itself, and if it isn’t within 5psi above or below a preset pressure setting it will shut itself down to prevent damage to the pump. The most likely reason for this pod pressure to be wrong will be either a blocked pod (pressure too high) or a hose is disconnected (pressure too low). This is the major benefit of having the pressure monitor at the end of the line as the system can pick up small psi variances, which considerably reduces the risk of pump damage.
The other feature I like about the KIM system is that the pump can be started and stopped from in the paddock. A separate control box in the paddock is on a stake that can be moved from hydrant to hydrant with the pods, transmitting the vital information back to the main controller in the shed. On the bottom of the control box is a switch that allows you to move the pods in the paddock, start the pump up and make sure all the pods are working correctly without having to go back to the shed to turn the pump on.
Ken Wright, who sharemilks 350 cows at Morton Mains, was a customer we visited and who was extremely happy with the ease of use and the piece of mind knowing that you are not wasting effluent and polluting the environment. He has been running a KIM system for just over six months with a pond link monitor, which also allows them to monitor the level of their holding pond. All this information monitored from in the cowshed was the biggest benefit for Ken.
Pond Link Monitor
The Pond Link Monitor includes a high level and a low level probe which are independently set to suit the situation. Once the low level indicator has been reached the irrigator is switched off automatically. This information can then be sent to the controller in the shed or on your computer, allowing you to monitor the level of your pond remotely.
Other applications include an automatic transfer from effluent receiving sump to holding ponds, activated by the high and low level probes which can be set in the hardware or tripped when the irrigator turns off, meaning the sump pump activates and pumps the remaining effluent into the holding pond.
Water Trough Monitor
The water trough monitor provides valuable information on water pressure as it records instantly when water pressure falls. Should any malfunction occur you will be notified either through a rapid change in your graph or by text to your mobile, allowing you to rectify the problem to ensure the cattle have water at all times. This monitor is usually mounted in the water line somewhere practical, not in every trough; however this will still pick up variances in pressure and indicating a problem of some sort.
Water Tank Monitor
This monitors the water level and flow rate, allowing constant monitoring of tank levels. It is particularly useful when header tanks are used and not always seen daily by the farmer. This allows you to monitor the level remotely to look for abnormal fluctuations.
Field Moisture Monitor
The Moisture Monitor reports on the level of moisture recorded at varying ground levels depending upon the data required. The information is valuable for crops and vineyards where water application is the dominant factor for optimum growth.
Water Bore Monitor
The Water Bore Monitor will provide you with information on pump hours, flow rate and battery voltage, eliminating the worry that your bore may run dry.
Richard has adapted the technology from the TIM and KIM systems to other farm monitoring situations, which can be used in an application such as AGHUB to monitor the irrigator, pond level, water trough, bore and water tank levels along with field moisture, all on one computer remotely, giving the farmer piece of mind.
This system has been very well thought out and the result is an easy to use yet very effective effluent management system that tells you exactly where to start looking if a fault does occur. I feel that I am going to have to go against my core values and say that I genuinely don’t think there is anything wrong with this set up, I can’t even complain about the price! This is partly due to the system’s ease of use, but I also have confidence in the products knowing that Richard has been in the industry for so long and will simply not let a product out of his workshop unless he is 100% happy with it.
Whether you want a simple effluent monitoring system or are prepared to go the whole hog, particularly handy if you are an absentee owner or have staff regardless of your situation, all dairy farmers should sit up and take notice of this product because it’s the way of the future.