The ultimate guide on pasture measurement tools

Everything you need to know about why you should use them, what tools are available in the market and finding the right one for your needs.

Read the whole guide or jump to a section of interest:

Let’s first understand why you should measure your pasture?
Why most farmers don’t utilize their pastures fully?
What can you gain by measuring and managing your pasture?
What pasture measurement tools are available in the market?
How much will each pasture measurement tool cost you?
How much effort will you need to use each pasture measurement tool?
How to find the pasture measurement tool that is right for you?
Are automatic satellite-based pasture measurement services cost-effective?
How you can measure your pasture automatically, for $15 per hectare per year?

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If you are a livestock farmer and you want to earn better profits, there is no better place to start than measuring your pasture.

But, as a busy farmer, you might flinch about measuring your pasture, every week.

I know, I know. You are busy. You have loads to do. And you have no time. I know because I myself am a third-generation Australian dairy farmer.

And if you stick with me long enough, you’ll also learn about automatic and cost-effective ways to measure your pasture. But let’s not put the cart before the ox shall we?

In this guide, I will help you find answers to:

  1. Let’s first understand why you should measure your pasture?
  2. Why most farmers don’t utilize their pastures fully?
  3. What can you gain by measuring and managing your pasture?
  4. What pasture measurement tools are available in the market?
  5. How much will each pasture measurement tool cost you?
  6. How much effort will you need to use each pasture measurement tool?
  7. How to find the pasture measurement tool that is right for you?
  8. Are automatic satellite-based pasture measurement services cost-effective?
  9. How you can measure your pasture automatically, for $15 per hectare per year?

Let’s first understand why you should measure your pasture?

Measuring pasture will increase farm profits.

I’ll give you one solid reason. You can save thousands of dollars, every year.

Yes, you read that right. It was not a mistake. According to a recent study, by not managing your pasture, you are losing as much as 385 dollars per hectare, every year.

This might stump you. But it is true.

And if that was not enough, here are some other facts for you to consider:

    By measuring your pasture, you can increase milk solids produced per hectare by 5%.

    By measuring you pasture, you can increase operating profit margins by 15%.

    By measuring your pasture, you can save thousands of dollars, every year.

I know that the last statement got you excited... And no it isn’t an over exaggeration.

In fact it is quite achievable. Enough of wondering about “how to save more money?” or “how can I be more successful?” I will show you how.

Let me explain. Your pasture offers you two distinct advantages.

First, it can help you reduce dependency on expensive fodder and imported supplements. This alone can save you a lot of money.

And second, it has a lower environmental footprint, because it literally grows in your backyard and does not need any shipping, packing or transportation.

Your pasture is the foundation of a profitable farm business. Because a healthy pasture will give you a competitive advantage over other farms by helping you lower your livestock management costs.

But then why don’t most farmers make full use of their pastures?

In fact, a recent study in New Zealand shows that dairy farms don’t reach recommended grazing management targets, half the time.

There are three possible explanations on why farmers don’t fully utilize their pastures.

  1. They don’t know how much they are losing by not managing their pastures. It is easy to just look at grass and forget the value of it. But since you are reading this, I know that you know better.
  2. They know the value of grass, but aren’t able to take regular pasture measurements, because it costs them time, labor and effort. I’m guessing this is probably your biggest pain point as well.
  3. They take regular pasture measurements, but aren’t able to use the data meaningfully. They might not feel entirely comfortable analyzing the results or trusting the analysis.

To sum things up... to utilise your pasture well, you need to:

    Know the value of your pasture (not assume).

    Take regular pasture measurements (not eyeball it).

    And use the data to make effective pasture decisions (not graze paddocks on rotation alone)

What can you gain by measuring and managing your pasture?

Beukes et al. 2018 helped farmers put an economic value on their pasture by studying different models on a farm in New Zealand. The study wanted to evaluate the potential production and economic benefits of measuring pastures and making effective grazing decisions based on the data.

Please refer the full study for more details. But, here’s a summary of the findings.

It showed that measuring and managing your pasture well can help you increase milk solids produced per hectare by 5% to 6%. And, thereby increase your operating profits by 15% to 19%.

There are greater farm profits to be achieved by measuring pasture.

Even with a conservative estimate, taking into account various other factors and costs, the study estimates an increased profit of $385 per hectare per year.

Literally, this means the difference between earning a good living and just getting by.

If you are reading this, surely you want to earn more profits and lead a better life. Measuring and managing your pasture can help you earn more profits.

It can help you earn more profits because it helps you:
  1. lower your feed and supplement costs, because you are taking maximum advantage of your pasture
  2. get higher returns because of the additional milk solids your animals will now be able to produce
  3. better manage your surplus pasture

There are several pasture measurement tools to choose from

Okay, now you know that your pasture is valuable and that it is the foundation for a profitable farm business. But, where do you start? How do you measure your pasture? And what tools do you use?

There are a number of pasture measurement tools to choose from. Some popular pasture measurement tools include:

Ollie Roberts using a rising plate meter on his family dairy farm.
RPMs are cheap to buy, but have high labour costs that amount to over 4,000 dollars, every year. In the picture, Ollie Roberts using a rising plate meter on his family dairy farm.

But which one is the right tool for you? To answer that, we need to understand something essential. How much does each of these tools cost you in terms of money and effort?

Only then can you pick the pasture measurement tool that is right for you, your farm and your unique needs. Because, what might work well for others, may not work for you.

Measuring pasture with a CDax meter
C-Dax meters reduce labour costs, but still have high purchase and maintenance costs

How much will each pasture measurement tool cost you?

When we talk about the monetary cost of measuring your pasture, it is easy to only think about how much money you spend buying a pasture measurement tool.

However, in reality, in addition to the purchase cost, there are also labour, maintenance, and opportunity costs involved.

Purchase Costs

This is simply the cost of buying a tool or using a service. For instance, you can buy an RPM for 300 dollars, a C-Dax pasture meter for about 6,000 dollars, and drones for several thousand dollars.

In case you use a drone or satellite-based service, your purchase costs will be your service or subscription fee, for as long as you use the service.

Farmote systems pasture measuring paddock mote
Electronic motes are extremely expensive, but they can offer more than just pasture measurements. Source: farmote.com

Labour Costs

Pasture measurement tools don't work by themselves. You need a person to make use of them. For instance, to take measurements, you need to walk with an RPM for 4 hours around your farm. In case of the C-Dax you will need to attach it to an ATV and ride it for a few hours.

Similarly, you need to install electronic motes, work with drone image processing software or analyze satellite-based information on your smartphone. Each tool demands a certain amount of labour.

Depending on the tool, this can take as long as six hours to as little as a few minutes. Be sure to factor in this cost as well.

CDax pasture robot in a paddock.
Semi-automatic bots appear to be a convenient futuristic solution, but they will be quite costly.

Maintenance Costs

Everything you buy, also has to be maintained. For example, RPMs need to be cleaned, C-Dax meters have to be cared for, electronic poles need to be checked, and you need to service drones.

Holding a drone in a paddock on a farm.
Drones show promise, but you have to learn how to fly one and use image processing software.

When something wears out or breaks down, they need to repaired or replaced. All of this will cost you money. Most farmers don't take into account these maintenance costs.

On the other hand, if you use a service from a satellite-based or drone service provider, you will have zero maintenance costs, as you don’t have to own or maintain anything.

Opportunity Costs

What you will pay in terms of lost farm productivity and unrealized profits, in case you don't measure your pasture accurately, or even worse fail to measure it at all. While this is hard to quantify, it can cost you dearly if you are not careful.

And how much effort are you willing to put in?

Measuring pasture will increase farm profits.

Monetary costs are significant, but they are not everything.

As a farmer, you also have limited cognition and capacity to work. So, you also need to watch out for how much effort each pasture measurement tool demands. Effort both in terms of getting the data as well as in terms of using the data.

It is safe to assume that, the lesser the effort a tool demands, the more likely you are to use it.

Getting the measurements

For instance, if you use RPMs, you will need about six hours of effort to measure 100 ha of pasture. With a C-Dax, you will need about two hours to do the same thing. Drones will take less than an hour, and satellite-based services will do this for you automatically in a minute.

Analyzing and using the measurements

Getting the measurements is just one part of the deal. To make effective grazing decisions based on these measurements, you also have to analyse them. Obviously, you spend a lot of effort when you use tools such as RPMs and grass wedges.

Electronic tools such as C-Dax, motes, and electronic plate meters make it slightly easier because they collect data digitally. However, you still cannot analyse the data seamlessly. You will still need to transmit the data on to your computer via Bluetooth or internet. This can be a pain in some cases.

While drones make it easier to transmit the measurements, you still have to use image processing software to map your data onto your farm and analyse the results before you can use it to make grazing decisions.

This is where satellite-based pasture measurement services offer a real competitive advantage. They help you get measurements as well as analyse them for you automatically. You can get automatic updates on which paddock to graze, on your smartphone, every day.

Different pasture measurement tools and their cost benefit.
The higher you go up this hierarchy, the more easy, accurate, and cost-effective they become.

Finding the pasture measurement tool, that is right for you.

To save your time, we have mapped all the popular pasture measurement tools with respect to how much money and effort it will cost you.

Different pasture measurement tools and their cost benefit.
An overview showing all pasture measurement tools mapped against how much cost and effort they need.

As you can see, satellite-based pasture measurement services cost the least because it has no purchase and maintenance costs. It also requires the least effort because you get the data and analysis automatically, in a few taps, right on your smartphone.

Are automatic satellite-based pasture measurement services cost-effective?

Satellites orbiting earth measuring pasture.

Congrats on making it so far. Most people don’t. And by investing your time in learning about the various pasture measurement tools, you are setting yourself up to manage better pastures and earn better profits.

Satellite-based services are the latest advancement among all the pasture measurement tools. It has three distinct advantages going for it.

First, satellite pasture measuring is automatic.

Satellite-based pasture measurement services send you an update, several times a week, directly to your phone or computer. In a few clicks, you will be able to see pasture measurements across all your paddocks and choose the best ones for grazing, today.

That means you don’t need to walk around with your RPMs or drive your ATV with a C-Dax for several hours, every week. It also means that you don’t have to fly a drone or worry about converting the raw data using image processing software. With satellite-based services, you get what you need, automatically.

This is a huge advantage over all the other tools. No other tool gives you automatic pasture measurements.

Second, satellite pasture measuring is accurate.

Satellite-based pasture measurement services such as pasture.io, give you extremely accurate results. Based on a few tests we ran, pasture.io only had an error difference of only ± 20 Kg DM/ ha when compared to real on-site measurements.

You may ask, but how can a satellite fly more than 30,000 kilometers above my farm and still give me accurate pasture measurement results. An excellent question. There are two parts to this answer.

One, we use high-resolution satellite images to find out how much vegetation is there in each paddock of your farm. Each satellite image can be zoomed into a block of 120 square meters. So as you can imagine, we will be using several thousand such images to give you accurate pasture measurements.

But, that is not all. We also take into account important factors that are unique to your farm such as your herd size, your local weather, when a paddock was last grazed, and when a paddock was last fertilized. We feed this information into our AI algorithms to give you highly accurate pasture measurements.

This is why our data has only an error difference of only ± 20 Kg DM/ ha when compared to real on-site measurements. This is also why we are able to offer data with reasonable confidence until 3,500 Kg DM/ ha. To also help you store your surplus as hay, haylage or silage.

And thirdly, satellite pasture measuring is cost-effective.

Satellite-based services like pasture.io will cost you $8 per hectare per year in addition to a flat annual fee of $ 1,099. This is less than half of what it would cost just in terms of labor if you use a RPM or C-Dax to measure your pasture.

And in case, you want to learn more about software-based pasture measuring tools, read:

Further reading resources

To sum it all up

It is important to realize that measuring your pasture is important, because it can earn you thousands of dollars in increased profit, every year.

No matter what you do or how you do it, measuring your pasture should be a non-negotiable for you. So start measuring your pasture today. And never stop doing it.

That said, using tools such as RPMs or a C-Dax meter might work well for you in case you are disciplined and well organized to spend a few hours every week, measuring your pasture, diligently.

But, if you are looking for something that is more accurate and convenient, you can consider electronic motes, drones or satellite tools.

Electronic motes are an expensive but a convenient option. Drones are a cost-effective and promising option that has a steep learning curve.

And satellite-based pasture measurement services such as pasture.io can give you automatic, accurate and cost effective pasture measurement updates several times a week.

Measure your pasture automatically for only $15/ha per year

NDVI satellite imagery for measuring pastures from space.

If conventional ways of measuring your pasture are too cumbersome and costly, you can consider an automatic pasture measurement service such as pasture.io. We use artificial intelligence and high-resolution satellite imagery to help you automatically measure pasture growth.

We also factor in local weather and your farm data. The weather data helps factor in seasonal weather changes, and the farm data helps factor other important local variables such as when your cows last grazed a particular paddock or when a paddock was last fertilized.

This means we can help you measure pasture growth until 3,500 Kg DM/ha with reasonable confidence to help you utilize surplus pasture effectively. And is something that other pasture growth measurement tools or services cannot offer.

We have a simple pricing structure. You play a flat fee of AUD 1,099 per year, and then pay AUD 8 per hectare per year. So, if you own 150 hectares, you will pay about AUD 15 per hectare per year. And in case you want something even more simple we also offer you a free plan that costs you nothing.

Check out our free and paid plans. It might change your life and your pasture for the better.

Happy Farming!