Mapping micro-indicators - Soil temperature and moisture

What are we doing for farmers?

The purpose of this research area, led by Nathan Odgers (Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research), is to map micro-indicators (soil temperature and moisture) in the hill country landscape and use this data to support and link to the forage models being developed in other parts of this programme. As hill country farms typically have diverse landscapes within individual farms, there is a need to help farmers quantify key soil and terrain features of these landscapes (e.g. soil temperature and moisture dynamics). This work will enable robust decision-making around the most suitable locations and potential benefits of introducing forage legumes into their hill country landscapes.

The 3 key achievements of this research to date are:

  1. Development of a sensor network system that can record and transmit data for key "micro-indicators" to cloud storage data over significantly increased and functionally useful ranges (10 km) in the complex hilly landscapes typical of hill country farms.
  2. Through the installation of six of these sensor networks (at representative sites in both the North and South Islands), data is being delivered from hill country farms and/or adjacent groups of hill country farms in a range of remote locations. 
    • Note that both achievements 1 and 2 are technical and don’t currently provide immediate and direct benefit to farmers, however, this work is a necessary pre-requisite to attempt farm-scale analysis of the patterns and dynamics of soil temperature and moisture in complex landscapes. They represent a significant advance for field application of this technology and the ability to measure and record information at farm-scale in the hill-country environment that can be fed into improving the timeliness and resolution of information that can feed into the on-farm decision-making process.
  3. Successful spatial modelling support for the legume yield modelling work. This has included data provision for the ‘soil input’ of the APSIM model to support the delivery of the national legume map, which required S-map and Fundamental Soil Layers (FSL) inputs to match the 5 km x 5 km NIWA-VCN.  It also included automation and scripting of the less complex empirical forage (TGM) model.

Ongoing and planned research

  • Data acquisition of micro-indicators from the six sites is ongoing and is being monitored in near real-time. Mirroring the data record and ongoing data monitoring to Amazon Cloud services to improve the data download function to facilitate data analysis is ongoing. This will also include attention to data quality (managing transmission errors and gaps) and resolving communication issues at the Prices Valley site, which has a unique problem with 4G/3G cell connectivity.
  • Now with an entire season of field data, spatial analysis of soil temperature and soil moisture will become the focus of this work area moving forward.
  • Once the farm-scale temperature and moisture analysis are successfully achieved, assessment of the legume forage models at the farm-scale will follow.