Saturday 1 October 2016

Taking the grind out of grass management

Published 24/06/2015 | 02:30

Grass measurement is about to get a whole lot easier with the launch of a brand new piece of kit called the Grasshopper.

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Developed by Clareman Paddy Halton, the technology represents the next generation of plate-meters for measuring grass drymatter in pasture.

"I was actually in discussing ideas with Teagasc about how to improve electric fences when I had a sort of epiphany," said Mr Halton, who worked as a engineer in global positioning satellite (GPS) technology in North America during the 1990s before returning home to start up a mapping company.

Using high frequency technology similar to ultra sound, Mr Halton has developed a platemeter that is accurate to 1mm, compared to the 5mm variance on existing plate meters.

It then combines these readings with the latest weather forecast data and ground conditions to provide a measurement of grass drymatter that is accurate "to within a couple of percent," according to Mr Halton.

However, the real appeal of the grasshopper for farmers is likely be its ease of use. By seamlessly uploading the measurements as they are being taken, the inventor of the device believes that it is likely to save farmers 10-15 minutes per paddock.

"You don't have to write down numbers or punch in readings into your phone. And it does all the calculations, factoring in all the variables like weather and drymatter via a series of algorithms that have been developed in conjunction with Teagasc," said Mr Halton.

Patterns

Teagasc researchers are hopeful that the widespread adoption of this type of technology will have the added benefit of generating a lot more data on grass-growth patterns on farms around the country.

The integration of GPS technology into the device also enables it to record individual values throughout the field, which could improve the accuracy of remedial measures.

"By geo-tagging each reading, we can actually generate yield maps of each field that will show the farmer where the lower yielding areas are, allowing him to take corrective action. It should also allow them to target fertiliser spreading at particular areas, which could be of particular benefit to farmers that are at their limit in terms of the nitrates directive," he said.

Mr Halton is also determined to keep the manufacturing process in Ireland, with units currently being made in Shannon. It has taken two years and over €100,000 to develop.

"There are less than 1,000 farmers measuring their grass on a weekly basis at the moment. A large part of the reason is that it is a very time consuming job. This could change all that, and I believe that ultimately there could be a market for 10,000 units in Ireland alone," he said.

He has already started selling the Grasshopper, at close to €800 a pop, into countries such as France, Holland and Belgium, with plenty of interest being shown in Britain and further afield.

The technology will also be on display at the Moorepark'15 event in Cork next week.

Indo Farming

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