Your two biggest pasture measurement barriers

As a farmer, you know how everything deteriorates with time – equipment, infrastructure, and even your health. They deteriorate even more rapidly if you do not pro-actively manage them.

Your pasture is no exception. If it is not managed well, it reduces in yield and becomes devoid of nutrients.

Ollie Roberts using a rising plate meter that is inexpensive to buy and expensive to use with labour.
Fig 1: RPMs are cheap to buy, but cost a lot in terms of labor and effort.

A sure shot way to manage your pasture effectively is to measure its growth, frequently. Because what gets measured, gets managed. Measuring helps you address our inherent human bias of engaging with more urgent or interesting things at the cost of what is important.

Also, as a farmer, you already do a lot. From helping cows give birth, milking them, ensuring that they get adequately fed, addressing on-farm emergencies. So, pasture management takes a backseat.

But by doing so, you are losing out opportunities to increase your farm productivity and earn better profits. The advantages of measuring and managing your pasture far outweigh the benefits of not doing it. Yet many of us don’t do it.

At least we do not do it as often as we should be…

Why? Because measuring our pastures cost us. It costs us in terms of both money and effort.

CDax can save on labour over a rising plate meter and are generally more accurate too.
Fig 2: C-Dax costs more, but saves some labour and effort.

Available pasture measurement tools

There is no shortage of pasture measurement tools. Some popular tools include RPMs, C-Dax pasture meters, electronic motes, self-driving bots, drones, and satellite pasture measurement services.

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?

Understanding the costs involved

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 labor, 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.

Perhaps the most expensive pasture measurement hardware is the farmmote system
Fig 3: Electronic motes are expensive, but they are more convenient. Source: farmote.com

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.

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, attach a C-Dax to an ATV and ride it, install electronic motes, work with drone image processing software or analyze satellite-based information on your smartphone.

Futureistic pasture measurement with the C-Dax robot.
Fig 4: Bots are a convenient futuristic solution, but it will be costly.

All these have associated time-labor costs. 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.

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 drones need to serviced. 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.

Drones have many barriers to being effective at pasture measurements
figure.card.card-raised 5: Drones are promising, but have high purchase and maintenance costs. Analyzing data can also be troublesome.

If you use a satellite-based or drone service, 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.

Understanding the effort involved

Costs are significant, but they are not everything. As a farmer, you also have limited cognition and capacity to work. So, you are also interested in how much effort a particular pasture measurement tool demands from you. In general, the lesser the effort demand, the more likely you are to use it. You will use effort first to get the data and then make use of 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.

Satellite pasture measurement is both cost effective and requires the least effort.

Fig 6: Satellite-based pasture measurement services are cost effective and need the least effort.

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 analyze them. The effort is maximum for pen-paper based tools such as RPMs.

Electronic tools such as C-Dax, motes, and electronic plate meters make it slightly easier because they collect data digitally. However, you cannot analyze the data seamlessly using these tools. To analyze it, you will still need to transmit the data on to your computer via Bluetooth or internet.

While drones make it easier to transmit the measurements, you still have to use image processing software to analyze 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 automatically as well as analyze it seamlessly on your smartphone in just a few taps.

Cost benefit of different pasture measurement tools
Fig 7: The higher you go up in this hierarchy of tools, the more easier, accurate, and cost-effective they become.

Finding your right pasture measurement tool

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.

Cost benefit of different pasture measurement tools
Fig 8: 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.

In case you are interested to learn more about an affordable satellite-based pasture measurement tool, check out Pasture.io. We specialize in helping you make effective grazing decisions by putting pasture measurements on autopilot. Our farmers have received up to a 40x return on their investment by using our service.

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

Happy farming!

- The Dedicated Team of Pasture.io, 22 Jan 2020