Business Rural Spring 2021

4 | Water analysis device Richard Loader A scientist, an automation engineer and a ‘grass-roots’ Kiwi cocky met in an Irish bar to chew the fat. On a paper bar napkin the scientist drew what he considered to be the Holy Grail of the automated analysis of water chemistry. The automation engineer sat back in his chair, looked at the drawing and said, “I reckon I could build one of those.” With weathered face, a glint in his eye, and ever- laconic, the cocky said, “I reckon that’s got potential to add a complete new dimension to my farming,” and swiftly deposited $1,000 into the engineers ac- count. But he added, “There’s no value in this fancy science if the information obtained isn’t under- standable, affordable and has a practical on-farm application. Those are the three fundamentals to make this work.” At that point, life was breathed into the idea of an ‘automated water analysis’. Nine months ago the first prototype was installed at the end of a 200mm tile drain that flows into the Waituna Creek on Ray and Janette McCrostie’s Mokotua sheep and beef farm. The device analyses water before it flows into the creek at 15-minute intervals, 24/7. “Healthy water leads to healthy soil, healthy grass, healthy stock and ultimately healthy food,” says Ray. “When you go to the doctor they might take a blood sample to see what’s in the blood that might be causing a problem. They then work their way back to establish where and why that’s happening. “So the aim of the device, combined with labora- tory testing, is to establish if there are issues in the water, and where and why they’re occurring, to enable proactive preventative management. We should be spotting the reasons nitrate and dissolved reactive phosphorus comes down the pipe, rather than measuring the nitrate itself.” In its prototype state, the results from the auto- mated water analysis device are simply recorded on RURAL PEOPLE » Ray McCrostie a memory stick, and then uploaded for analysis to Waikato University. A soon to be released upgrade will enable that information to be available on demand. “Since implementation it has been a work in progress with continuous process of refinement and more sensors being added. To date I’ve outlaid $2,600 to get this project underway and we’re about to get a dissolved oxygen sensor installed in the next week or so, to upgrade the data capabil- ity. According to the water chemist there’s direct correlation between dissolved oxygen levels in the water and nitrates. The sensor’s role will be to determine the level of nitrates in the water. The dissolved nitrate sensor is $640, whereas an off-the-shelf nitrate sensor is worth $52,000. So, I think it could be said that it’s affordable. And in or- der to keep it that way, the electronic data is being cross-referenced with a minimum of 100-laboratory samples, to keep the costs down and establish a baseline. You can then develop a picture of what the electronics are saying in comparison to the labora- tory analysis.” Key players working on the project, which could well be an environmental game-changer for farmers throughout New Zealand and internationally include automation engineer Richard Dean; water chemist Dr Clint Rismann and Waikato University Professor Troy Baisden. Ray’s son Carl has also been working with Rich- ard, developing component upgrades and is also responsible for the machine’s operation. As ‘grass roots cocky, Ray’s role is about provid- ing the passion and resources to get the project off the ground. “I consider myself very fortunate to be associ- ated with these people. The combination of their skills and commitment is totally empowering. When we get this refined and I’m confident in its abilities, I’m not looking to make money from it. My position is that in due course, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned with anyone. The environmental issues are a very contentious and stressful business for a lot of people, farmers in particular.” Automation engineer Richard Dean and Motueka sheep and beef farmer Ray McCrostie with ‘derrick’. In its prototype state, the results from the automated water analysis device are simply recorded on a memory stick, and then uploaded for analysis to Waikato University. A soon to be released upgrade will enable that information to be available on demand. FOR ALL YOUR AGRICULTURAL, BALING & PIT SILAGE REQUIREMENTS AT COMPETITIVE RATES 5 Kapuka South Rd, Kapuka RD 5, Invercargill | E: Phones: Workshop 03 239 5780 | Office 03 239 5502 | Mark (Harold) 027 450 1394