In this article, we'll discuss how using rising plate meters is in the past. Pasture plate meters are no longer required to measure pasture on the farm now that automatic (satellite) pasture measurements have improved with technology and advances in modelling. Let's be clear, rising plate meters are not required. Remote pasture sensing is a new agtech, it is the future of farming and the future of measuring pasture and improving grazing management.
Farmers all over the world are faced with labour shortages and rising costs.
With more and more people living in urban centres, there is a disconnect between farmer and consumer. A recent study showed that most consumers had no idea how much work goes into producing their food from growing the crops to raising the animals for meat or milk production.
Crazy enough, many farmers on the ground are disconnected from farming due to the sheer work that goes into managing each day and not to mention the lost opportunity of not making greater farm profit.
And all because farmers work late, miss family dinners and are out fixing things during the kids' birthday.
No more missed birthdays, or evening meals and let's get smart.
This article will discuss new agtech advances in pasture measurement which allows farmers like you to measure pastures without walking the farm once a week with a rising plate meter!
We will also cover how the new agtech pasture measurement technology works why it is better than rising plate meters and the benefits of using satellite-based measurements vs traditional manual methods.
Understanding the rising plate meter
A rising plate meter (rpm) is a device that is historically used to measure the amount of dry matter in a pasture by measuring the compressed height of the pasture. There is somewhat of a relationship between compressed height and kilogram of dry matter pasture cover.
The formula is a linear equation with a factor and multiplier. Not really much more to be said.
Some farmers think it is important to change the formula based on seasonal change. Even then, the formula is the best fit of the eyeball method to many and is not ideal without proper calibration.
We regularly see a staggering variance of approximately 150 kilograms of dry matter or more. Albeit, this is a precision method when compared with eyeballing pastures!
Given that you need to walk your land, across each paddock, the task of measuring your feed wedge with a rising plate meter is laborious and slow.
One of the biggest advantages a rising plate meter has over a C-Dax pasture meter is that you can walk, take time, be one with nature or whatever floats your boat.
Otherwise, the pitfalls of a C-Dax pasture meter far outweighed using a rising platemeter when it comes down to the consistency of estimating Kg DM for each hectare and that you can cover a lot more ground in a lot less time.
In other words, the C-Dax pasture meter makes the task easy when compared to a rising plate meter.
Our founder (Oliver) has spent years utilising both methods and has thoroughly tested the formula, and how each reading represents what is in the paddock.
He understands the shortcuts that staff take, measuring only the gateways, estimating a quick selection of the paddock and then telling you for good info that they enjoyed the walk.
How painful are rising plate meters?
The big pains are easy to assess when relying on a rising plate meter:
- The recording is not consistent with a wet and muddy shaft that needs constant cleaning
- Deficits and surpluses are harder to catch with greater variance in readings
- Reading gateways or finding shortcuts is common with all staff
- Paddock pugging damage can yield a number that is not representative
- Calibrated tools will need monitoring from season to season
- Using a plate meter is better than your eyeball and worse than a C-Dax pasture meter
- The calibration equation will never be accurate to estimate average forage cover
- Typically a ryegrass sward is good, but anything tall such as millet or oats will be too tall
- Does anyone have time to measure grass during calving let alone do other tasks like spreading fertiliser?
- Plate meters only measure roughly 40 or 60 readings across a paddock leaving producers guessing the remaining area of food on offer (FOO).
- Plate meters measure a point reading and not a spatial reading like satellites.
- Staff or user bias can influence poor readings.
So, how do we get around all these pains?
There is a solution and that's what we're going to look at next.
Introducing the newest pasture measurements on the block
Automatic pasture measurements, as we like to call them are a service that provides farmers with measurements of their pastures with zero labour.
The service is partly enabled by satellites, which means you get your pasture information direct from "the cloud" and does not need any additional equipment other than a device that can connect to WIFI or mobile data (like a phone, tablet or computer).
This should be welcome news for many graziers across the world who, like you are under pressure from rising costs associated with labour shortages, poor rainfall conditions during winter/summer and environmental issues like salinity or erosion affecting production on-farm.
Automatic pasture measurements provide daily reports at no extra cost!
This means every day during the growing season there will be new data available about how fast grasses grow in response to changes in grazing practices, weather conditions, and fertiliser applications.
It also considers seasonal effects such as heat waves or cold snaps that really knock your pastures growth.
What about other satellite pasture measurement services?
There have been other attempts at remotely measuring pasture mass. Unfortunately, many say they get it but dig a little deeper and the truth is uncovered.
Remember Pastures from Space Plus or maybe better known as PfS+?
Well, they were groundbreaking, but just didn't quite get it there.
They needed more ground knowledge (you know, from a farmer's perspective) before they could be widely accepted by farmers and the plethora of farming systems. They tried to sell something so basic and not practical, their calibration checks were lacking.
Their models were calibrated with image pixels the size of football stadiums! The tool was a great concept for its time.
You get the picture.
Who does Pasture.io service?
Pasture.io's newest satellite tech is outputting dry matter calibrated assessments across many countries, focusing on the grass growing region of Australia, Latin America, New Zealand, North America, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.
The majority of our customers farm in a high average rainfall with generally a ryegrass based sward.
In saying that, we service farmers who grow chicory, plantain, Kikuyu, clover, millet, oats, turnips, maize, and much more and many with a mixed sward. Basically, if you grow something that resembles a pasture, we can most likely take readings on it.
Our farmers are typically dairy-based having ample rain and living close to population centres. Though our best fit customer is generally beef, sheep or dairy where animals are intensively rotationally grazed.
We can service rangeland and extensive graziers, we just don't advertise too much in this area and are looking to expand.
We hold a comprehensive calibration equation for most regions of the world.
Our average customers received a satellite measurement on average every 2.6 days! Now if you're in the game of growing ryegrass, you'd know this is impressive. Especially if you're from the Land Of The Long White Cloud in New Zealand.
We deliver more samples consistently than any other satellite (heck, any other manual) measurement device and we'd love to service your farm.
How does automatic (satellite) pasture measurement work?
Farmers can utilise this service in a few different ways depending on the size of their property and how much time they have.
The most common way is to register with our agtech company Pasture.io, we'll provide you daily updates via the online portal about pasture growth rates on each paddock, animal activity, and other farm events.
The new technology uses multispectral imaging that detects very small changes in reflectance spectra associated with chlorophyll concentration in plant leaves relative to neighbouring vegetation types such as grasses and shrubs.
This information is combined with high-resolution satellite imagery collected by premium satellite optical sensors for greater accuracy over larger areas when compared against traditional ground-based measurements such as rising plate meters or manual estimates from farmers' eyeballs themselves.
There are three main information points that make the pasture measurements hum, and they are:
- Satellite images
- Paddock activities
- Local weather information.
Most of this information is automated, and there are manual inputs that can be made by farmers.
In fact, you can even tweak the results, which helps the machine learning to improve over time, increasing accuracy on each of your paddocks.
What are the benefits of satellite pasture measurements over a rising plate meter?
Firstly, there is no need to walk the farm with a rising plate meter ever again!
For many graziers, this will make their life much easier and save them hours walking up and down paddocks every week during winter/spring seasons which can be labour intensive if you have large landholdings.
For others, it might remove the FOMO or anxiety of not walking your farm, understanding the massive lost opportunity when you aren't measuring grass.
Now you can measure pastures via your phone or tablet in real-time from anywhere on earth where there's an internet connection (or wifi).
This means that farmers who spend most of their working lives driving around between properties or out inspecting livestock don't even need to go near their property for regular inspection purposes anymore!
Instead, they just get daily updates about how fast grasses are growing, how much stock are eating each paddock and other farm events.
In saying that, we always believe that the person setting the grazing rotation should have an eye on their operations.
Secondly, it is also accurate!
You can get daily updates about your pastures growth rates so you know exactly when to move animals to the next pasture.
This means no more overgrazing or under-grazing which can quickly lead to lower production levels on your property due to poor plant health caused by insufficient pasture management.
Similarly from an insufficient grass supply - especially during winter/spring seasons where rainfall may be low or unreliable depending on location.
With satellite measurements you'll always have up-to-date information available for analysis whenever needed; this means better decision making not only around grazing management but weed control too (you can use our services in conjunction with best practice agronomic advice as well).
Again, accuracy equals better results, which means more money in the back pocket of farmers.
Thirdly, your pastures will be measured automatically with no extra work required.
Not only does this save you time but it also saves on labour as well as maintenance costs associated with pasture plate meters or some other manual measuring systems such as a tape measure and wheel gauge (which is still used by many graziers - believe it or not).
The point here is that satellite measurements are "always" up-to-date which makes them superior to traditional ground-based measurements. Especially where people have to go out and manually check grass levels via walking properties or driving around between paddocks and re-checking previously checked areas again.
Re-checking is common, as sometimes you forget, or just because you didn't do it properly the first time round due to tiredness after long days working.
Why is remote pasture measuring better than plate meters?
Walking your land (hopefully) with a tool like a pasture meter to determine a dry matter estimate or in plain speak how much pasture is available is an essential piece of farm profitability.
Now, what we can do now, is automate this task, increase accuracy and up your precious time for other pressing issues.
This blog article is about not utilising rising plate meters to measure pastures now that automatic (satellite) pasture measurements have improved with technology and advances in modelling.
The article is written to convince you that walking the farm once a week to measure grass with a pasture plate meter is no longer required.
- You can save labour
- Save on maintenance
- Get better accuracy
And a favourite of ours:
More peace of mind knowing that your pastures are measured automatically with satellites that fly over daily. This is new agtech and it is the future of farming, measuring pasture, and grazing management.
Pasture.io's leading agtech has evolved over decades of research and has gone the distance with a global dataset of pasture samples. This has enabled the leading 365 days a year delivery of pasture measurements.
Okay, so we don't just provide satellite pasture measurements, but using factors such as weather, we turn the page and have made the tools for delivering pasture covers, pasture growth rates and leaf emergence rates every day of the year.
To put this in perspective, with a rising plate meter or a C-Dax pasture meter, you'd be lucky to get 48 measurements a year!
The more measurements you have, the more accurate your information is. This means better results which equal more money in your back pocket.
Using this you can determine how much pasture to feed based on measuring your pastures daily - it depends on what you need and what stage of growth each paddock is at. Let the app use its brain to relieve some of your neurons!
Imagine getting a feed wedge that ensures cows do not need extra hay because you hit a feed pinch or the dry matter content of your silage was wrong. It's all about de-risking.
To sum up, this technology will:
- Determine your feeding strategy
- Help you prepare for drought
- Ensure cows weigh appropriately
- Give you more range in your walk
- Search and scan every meter of your paddocks
- Increase your forage and pasture utilisation
- Help you grow high-quality pasture
Okay, so we don't want to hate on the rising plate meter, it has served its purpose. So has the C-Dax pasture meter. They both do a great job at delivering a feed wedge from week to week. They both estimate forage and both have a reasonable calibration equation.
We just think there is a better way to assess the quantity of forage on your farm for each paddock.
We think there is a better way to make grazing decisions not just for your animals but for your paddock.
If this resonates with you and you're looking to retire the rising plate meter or the C-Dax pasture meter, and are on the search for a pasture meter that is both reliable and accurate, then have a chat with us today.
What does future pasture management look like?
We're excited for the future of pasture management. The future is now and it's about harnessing technology to de-risk your farm business, increase profitability and be more sustainable.
We're not kidding when we say that this blog article is written to help convince you that walking the farm once a week to measure grass with a pasture plate meter is no longer required.
We want you to feel liberated!
The money we are diverting to further research and develop value is telling of what the future beholds. We're excited to be at the forefront of this agtech and warmly welcome you to join us as a pioneering farmer.
From season to season, as we experience volatility in climate, it is vital to have the tools on hand that will ensure cows are well-fed forage, silage and hay with accurate feed budgeting.
This finger on the pulse without having to depend on precious brainpower is the future. No more estimate with an uncalibrated tool, where feed is commonly waster and pasture utilisation is low.
We envisage a future where you can enjoy grazing decisions. A future where grazing decisions don't make you feel anxious due to a feed pinch or heavy rain event.
We envisage a future where grazing decisions are automated, highly profitable and sustainable, enabling you to spend more time with your family and friends.
Until we meet again, Happy Measuring!
- The Dedicated Team of Pasture.io, 18 August 2021