View Full Version : GrassMaster Developments

15th August 2009, 08:13 PM
In late 2007, Novel Ways utilised the FRST TIF scheme to part-fund some undergraduate research at the University of Waikato. The current model GrassMaster II drymatter instrument was appraised in the physics laboratory, and a new model probe and measuring technique put forward. We have yet to complete and test a new design (the GrassMaster Pro) but are also conscious that there are many hundred users of the earlier instruments spread around the world.

We are still manufacturing and selling the tried and tested Grassmaster II to agronomists, farmers and grass-seed merchants, and have excellent feedback from them. Recently we have been in contact with Meat and Wool New Zealand, to access their nationwide data on grass plot DM using the GrassMaster. The aim is to find a more universal equation for paddock measurements, that can be used throughout the year on most grass and legume species.

Please use this forum to post comments on your findings with the probe, or to ask about its features.

6th November 2009, 07:45 PM
Novel Ways have recently completed the paperwork to obtain the GrassMaster field data through Meat&Wool NZ. Having the data to hand will let us test our theories on over 300 rolling country paddock measurements gathered at various times over much of NZ.

Companies developing and trialling new grass seed varieties are keen users of the GrassMaster II - it's portable, doesn't damage the grass plots, easy to use and gives highly repeatable results.

Recently a farmer traded in his damaged electronic rising plate meter (RPM)for a new GrassMaster II, because he needed more accuracy. He was well aware that RPMs are not suited to sloping or hilly sites (can only measure on flat ground), and can attract huge errors if used on pugged or uneven pasture (the central rod drops into depressions in the ground, directly affecting the measurement).

In fact I am always perturbed when NZ pasture drymatter levels are not specified in kgDM/Ha, which although not a measure of energy, is at least some way towards the truth. 'So many clicks on the RPM' is an often-printed expression, which is truly 'dumbing down' the situation.

I think what farmers really need to know is the ENERGY in MJME for the paddock in question. So they need to know three things:

Paddock area, paddock drymatter in kgDM/Ha, and the MJME of the material in MJME/kgDM.

This last one is the hardest to measure immediately on the farm. That's why we are looking hard at Brix Meters (see other thread) because they are available, are fast to use, are cheap and reliable, and just need some more research behind them. The difference between good quality grass MJ and poor quality grass, is as much as 100% or more. There is not much point measuring grass drymatter if you don't also have a measurement of the quality, especially when viewed over a whole year. The situation gets far worse if you start comparing farms, where the quality can vary even more.

We're very proud of the GrassMaster II as it is, and would run it in a managed trial over a range of pasture types against any RPM, and come out smiling. We'll be even happier when we can provide a more universal equation for pasture DM mass, and add in a quality measurement. All data taken within a few minutes by the farmer, per paddock.

Getting this sort of information on the farm, and logging it on a database of some kind, would then lead to the possible doubling of production on farms. The reason I'm so confident about this, is that average energy conversion of the sun's energy to milk product energy in NZ is only 0.06%. The losses are huge, but with a bit more care farmers could grow more grass and keep it in better condition. That's all it would take. (See Farming the Sun thread).

16th March 2010, 08:30 PM
From MAF site: SFF Project Summary
Project Title: Best-Practice Pasture Renewal for Better Forage Production and Sustainability Grant No.: 08/019

Contact Details
Name of Applicant Group: DairyNZ Waikato and Bay of Plenty Focus Farm Groups
Contact Person: Warren King
Address: AgResearch Ruakura
East St
Telephone 1: 07 838 5159
Telephone 2: 021 228 5159
Facsimile: 07 838 5119
Email: warren.king@agresearch.co.nz
Project Details
Status: In Progress
SFF Funding: 300,000.00
Total Project Funding: 1,022,000.00
Proposed Start Date: 2008-07
Proposed Finish Date: 2011-09
Region: Waikato, Bay of Plenty
Sector: Pastoral
Sub-sector: Dairy
Topic: Feed & forage
Farm production
Last updated: 08 February 2010

Latest update

Project description
This project proposes to trial best-practice pasture renewal and management techniques with monitoring of the establishment, persistence and production of the key forage species. The information will be used to develop a value proposition that explicitly considers the costs, benefits, risks and uncertainties of pasture renewal in a farming system context. Together with consideration of the social context of technology adoption, this directly addresses the key constraints to higher rates of successful pasture renewal and adoption of new pasture technologies.

The issue/opportunity
Higher rates of successful pasture renewal and the wider adoption of new pasture technologies have the potential to deliver significantly more forage and so drive a major step forward in the profitability and sustainability of New Zealand's pastoral agriculture. Industry has recognised this: the 2006 Dairy Industry Strategy aims to increase pasture harvested by 50% by 2015 and estimates that this will add about $6 billion in export value to New Zealand.

These technologies can also reduce the environmental consequences of grazing livestock. For example, direct-drill sowing techniques enable better fertiliser and seed placement that require lower overall fertiliser application rates, which limits subsequent nutrient losses. In addition, reduced cultivation means that soil carbon losses are lower and there is less impact on soil structure and soil health. Better pasture establishment success rates and best-practice ongoing management results in pastures that are more persistent and more resilient with a greater potential to tolerate extreme climatic events such as drought.

The context/background
Pastoral industry bodies such as the Pasture Renewal Charitable Trust (a group representing more than a dozen pastoral industry companies) have identified a number of critical issues that currently limit industry growth: poor pasture condition, poor pasture persistence, low rates of pasture renewal with low success rates, and low rates of technology adoption.

Farmers themselves have identified a number of constraints to the adoption of new pasture technologies:

Lack of on-farm demonstration of successful pasture establishment and persistence in their region
Perceived high risk and uncertainty during pasture establishment
Distrust of information from commercial seed and fertiliser merchants, which is often based on inadequate short-term (1-2 year) trials. Much of this information can be contradictory and confusing
Lack of convincing value proposition for renewal of perennial pastures.
This project has a strong focus on on-farm case studies. Farmer initiated, there will be approx. 10 each in the Waikato and BOP. These trials will involve a number of pasture renewal options and will examine the entire pasture renewal process, from paddock selection to the persistence of the new pasture. The aim is to provide compelling demonstrations of a range of contrasting pasture establishment techniques. These may include cultivation options or different species/cultivars. Pasture performance and environmental quality will be closely monitored. Some of the monitoring will be done by farmers although the 'added-value' measurements of soil structure and pest status (for example) will be done by scientists.

In addition, some structured interviews will be conducted to examine the social context of the decision-making process in the adoption of pasture renewal technologies (multi-criteria decision making). This information will guide the development of the project outputs and help to maximise the capture of the opportunities outlined above: industry-wide improvements in profitability and sustainability.

Latest update
Ten farms (29 pastures) in the Waikato and ten farms (28 pastures) in the BOP are now being monitored and a broad range of pastures are covered. Eleven months of pasture measurement have now been recorded for most pastures.

Additional funding has recently been received from DairyNZ and the project has been extended to include endophyte testing (currently under way) and extension into the South Island (Canterbury and Otago), with pasture monitoring expected to start early 2010.

Publication of results has occurred in the Proceedings of the New Zealand Grassland Association and in farming media.


Most of the farms have now been selected for this project-eight each in the Bay of Plenty and Waikato. A total of 48 paddocks now have cages installed and we have three months data. Three-fold differences in pasture production were measured between the "best" and "worst" paddocks on some farms. A survey of soil-borne insect pests revealed very high numbers of black beetle in many paddocks. These results have been discussed at three field days in the BOP and were also highlighted at the Waimate West Field Day in Taranaki.

This project continues to be delayed by the contracting process. Apart from the core contract having only recently been signed, the co-funding contracts have required the development of quite lengthy documentation. This process is not yet complete. Despite these delays, some progress has been made on the selection of the farms: a field trip that visited five farms in the Bay of Plenty was held in September and a substantial amount of data collected on the pasture renovation process.

This sort of research looks like smart business, and lines up with my recent upskilling about the low average solar efficiency of pastoral farming. How else could an extra 50% of grass be obtained across NZ in just a few years.

After facilitation by a contact in Fonterra's "Pastures From Space" program, we had a meeting with Dr Warren King from AgResearch recently. He agreed that the GrassMaster II would be an ideal measuring instrument to complement paddock and test site readings on grasses and forages, to help with these types of research programmes. We could also learn a lot more about our equipment, as these sites are carefully sampled, and the material is sent off to labs for analysis. Several instruments of various types can be used to estimate pasture drymatter and other parameters, all this taking a lot less time and effort than the actual grass sampling and lab work to compare them all.

We are now waiting for a costing from AgResearch for these marginal fees, and we'll be happy to provide free equipment and any staff training needed. This work would have obvious benefits for all levy payers and stakeholders, not to mention GrassMaster owners. This type of collaboration between the private sector and CRIs is hopefully on the increase, and should be the fastest way to produce terrific results for farmers.

1st August 2010, 10:35 PM
We have a disappointing result from Dr Warren King: AgResearch have continued with their paddock data gathering research for CDAX and others, and failed to provide a quote for any costs for research for us. There was a legal issue, involving whether or not we could use the AgResearch name after paying for the data to be gathered by their team, and who would carry out the analysis or stats. There was another issue over them being involved at all if we were going to export the technology. I had to reply that we started exporting GrassMasters (the forerunner, PastureWand) three months after starting on the design work in 1996! And we've sold a lot more GrassMasters (with Tru-Test's help) than CDAX have sold of their Pasturemeters.

Around about the same time we were advised to contact Dr Bruce Thorrold at DairyNZ. The head office is within walking distance of our factory, and their research farms are opposite us on State Highway 26. Initial background work looked very positive. This is what Dr. Thorrold's PR statement includes:

From the DairyNZ website

Monday, 31 March 2008
Bruce Thorrold, newly appointed Strategy and Investment Leader (Productivity) at DairyNZ, says he is looking to lessons from the past to equip farmers with the tools they need for the future.

“The history of the dairy industry shows that we are most successful when we combine farmers’ drive to innovate and succeed, with scientific knowledge and agri-business commercial discipline.
“To achieve all this, the industry needs to have clear goals and an integrated and long-term plan for achieving them. Since the disestablishment of the Dairy Board and as the separate organisations that were formed took time to become established, there has been some fragmentation of approach in the industry. Today there is a strong drive to improve the level of cooperation and integration, to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness,” Dr Thorrold says.

“Certainly our experience is that combining our resources with those of willing partners is of major benefit to farmers. As with any relationship, we need to keep working at it to improve and I intend to do just that. Fortunately we are not alone in taking this path.”

He points to Government’s recent Fast Forward Fund and the call for long-term and integrated planning as a general shift toward ensuring projects have greater alignment with agreed objectives.

“DairyNZ is keen to make the most of the funding injection from Government, and support the drive to ensuring investment is matched by industry and coordinated from a long term strategy perspective. Having said that, we are also aware of the need to deliver proven tools to farmers in the short to medium term. Farmers can’t wait until tomorrow for the solutions they need today. Addressing that need is still top priority for us, and is where the value of partnerships will come to the fore.”

Dr Thorrold highlights five key areas where DairyNZ can use this integration to deliver immediate results for farmers:

Working with farmers to support local initiatives such as Southland Demonstration Farm, BOP Focus on Dairy and Northland Dairy Development Trust
Working with animal breeding companies to ensure that farmers get the cows they expect from the new genomic selection methods.
Working with rural professionals to develop and deliver farmer tools such as InCalf and Healthy Hooves.
Working with CRIs and agri-business to increase the value farmers get from new plant material and endophytes.
Working with farmers and agri-business to test and demonstrate the value of automation and information technology on-farm.
Longer-term results will come from the integrated planning of the research and adoption effort in partnership with researchers, government and industry.

DairyNZ chief executive Dr Tim Mackle says Dr Thorrold is well placed to establish and maintain the partnerships that will maximise dairy farmers’ investment.

“It’s fair to say that the level of industry integration and partnership building we want to achieve will require high levels of energy and experience. The clear pay off for all involved is realising a better result together than we can achieve separately. Dr Thorrold is the right man to help develop this win-win environment. He has, and continues to work at, a very high level within the industry and has earned the considerable respect given by his peers,” Dr Mackle says.

..The Strategy and Investment Leader positions are a key part of a restructuring process undertaken to meet the broad mandate DairyNZ assumed through the merger of Dairy InSight and Dexcel. These high-level roles will help fulfil DairyNZ’s primary vision as an investor to secure and enhance the profitability, sustainability and competitiveness of New Zealand Dairy Farming.

Three Platforms have been established according to core responsibilities:

Productivity – covering the major work programmes of feed, animals and farm systems
Sustainability – covering environmental management, biosecurity (e.g. Tb eradication), animal welfare and community impact
People and Business – covering business planning and systems, and human capability.
Quick Bio
Ph: 07 858 3750
Mobile: 027 293 4404

On the third attempt at a meeting date, I was ushered into the tea-room at DairyNZ for a one-on-one, very informal meeting with Dr Thorrold. We had to conclude business an hour later as staff were filing in for lunch. DNZ are well funded by Dairy Farmers (another $43mill is contestable in the Pastoral 21 Fund), and they continually carry out grass sampling. I outlined our need for GrassMaster probe and Brix meter data, which would not add greatly to the costs of their trials, but would help us jointly provide good data to farmers, and probably supply better tools.

The meeting seemed positive, we hopefully ticked all the right boxes (see the PR statement above). I was urged to provide a wish-list of the work that we'd like carried out, and I did so in writing, promptly. I received a polite response that this had been received. Several months later, not one word has been written to give us a costing on the work. A followup email was written recently, this time no acknowledgement was made.

If you are a dairy farmer paying levies to DairyNZ, you might like to advise them when next you meet, that you would indeed like to see them working on projects with the private sector. Our Batt-Latch timers must collectively have saved farmers millions of dollars in costs over the years. The GrassMaster could be even more spectacular in helping the bottom line. As I explained to Bruce, Novel Ways won't get the massive collective gains, but we would be happy just to provide a product into that space.

Here is the letter I wrote to Bruce Thorrold.

To Dr Bruce Thorrold:

As at 20 July, no reply has been forthcoming to my documentation of the 3rd February informal meeting with you, and a request for costs for research work.

As you verbally assured me that the supply of our written wish-list was not a fob-off Bruce, I am now wondering which of these scenarios apply:

(1) You are too busy to reply (but not too busy for media and Fieldays appearances it would seem)

(2) You have no intention of replying because there is a conflict(s) of interest in intellectual property that Novel Ways is not aware of

(3) You do not wish to squander any farmer levies or Pastoral 21 funds on a small business, and would prefer all of it was spent in-house with your own staff (both research and admin)

(4) DairyNZ policy is not to support NZ agribusiness, unless it is capable of fronting up with most of any substantial research funds needed

(5) DairyNZ is not interested and sees no use in testing, proving, or reporting on private sector agribusiness tools for their levy payers, no matter how cost-effective and under-utilised they might be

(6) You are of the opinion that farmers will quickly find and vet specialized tools on an individual basis, so this market sector functions perfectly already

(7) DairyNZ ‘owns’ the area of pasture research and ruminant grazing in NZ and will not work with others in this sector, even if it would likely help dairy farmers

(8) DairyNZ are answerable only to levy payers and substantial funders, and Novel Ways is neither, therefore a reply is not necessary

(9) The projects discussed were too small in scale to involve enough staff for a longer length of time. The administration effort required was not worth it from DairyNZ’s view

(10) You have made a personal decision not to reply, and that is helped by the unofficial one-on–one meeting in the tearoom that was set up on the third attempt. There was never an intention to do anything.

Bruce, I know you’re in a responsible position, with lots of projects on the go. But you are being very unprofessional in dealing with another business. You have staff you could dictate a letter to, minimising your effort. I’m requesting you put at least something in writing, sometime this week, so I can decide what I’m doing with our stalled research programme.

If I get no reply, I will post this one-sided communication (minus our technical info) somewhere your levy-payers will see it. That’s a promise.

Yours faithfully
Graham Lynch, owner.

4th August 2010, 08:21 PM
AgCareers has this PR gem for prospective DairyNZ employees:

DairyNZ is the industry good organisation representing New Zealand's dairy farmers. Funded by a levy on milksolids and through government investment, our purpose is to secure and enhance the profitability, sustainability and competitiveness of New Zealand dairy farming. We aim to do this by leading innovation in world-class dairy farming and by working always in the best interests of New Zealand's dairy farmers.

Our structure has three key investment areas: productivity (feed, animals and farm systems); sustainability (environmental management, biosecurity, animal welfare and community impact); and people and business (farm business and human capability). These enable us to focus on delivering real value to farmers.

We deliver this value through leadership, influencing, investing, partnering with other providers and through our own strategic capability, with the goal of better positioning New Zealand’s dairy farmers, on-farm, nationally and internationally. Our work includes research and development to create practical on-farm tools, leading on-farm adoption of best practice farming, promoting careers in dairying and advocating for policy, legislative and investment decisions by central and regional government which are good for dairy farming.

I could be forgiven for thinking that the old Dexcel policy is still in place: basically it stated that the Extension Division would show farmers new technology, tools and techniques to help in their operations - as long as the work was all derived from Dexcel research.

I'm still waiting for someone at DairyNZ to provide a quote for our research work. I think we'd have a lot more luck partnering up with the private sector, by now the initial work would have been completed. The difference is obvious. If DairyNZ had to act as a normal business, they would treat every customer with the same care we do. Otherwise, they'd be out of business. As simple as that.

21st September 2010, 05:52 PM
Around 1996, Novel Ways developed most of what is now called the GrassMaster Drymatter Instrument, with Roger Martyn, a tertiary qualified agronomist and consultant. Roger now resides in Australia, and is running a business called Grazetech. You will note that Grazetech is our technical representative for GM and other products in Australia.

Check out the site: www.grazetech.com.au

Recently, Roger has added this body of work to the website, and it is very useful information for pastoral farmers - Fully feeding Cows (http://www.grazetech.com.au/content/tips-how-fully-feed-cows-pasture)

12th February 2012, 11:20 AM
In the last year or so, we have made an intensive effort to bring forward our R&D on the GrassMaster drymatter instrument. With one patent reaching the final stage, and others to follow soon, we cannot divulge too much at the moment. However, a new Indicator assembly that fits the original probe assembly will be available for sale in June 2012, at National Fieldays. The new top will feature improved communication links (USB), a two-line backlit display, ability to input more farm-related data, and a universal equation for ryegrass/clover swards and other forages. This equation will be accurate for the entire year, and will enable farmers and agronomists to measure small (less than 10%) changes between pasture treatments (grass cultivars, fertiliser and grazing regimes, etc). We are also working with the developer of Feedflo to bundle a feedwedge application for free with the probe, a cut-down version of the full software. In any case, the raw instrument data will be available for use in Excel spreadsheets too.

This is an exciting year for us - our local paddocks have been used for CWD calibrations - and a CRI researcher has obtained extremely high correlations between the GMII and CWD data, using a basic linear equation, if used over a short period of time. Our universal equation will extend this extraordinary accuracy out over the entire year.

21st August 2012, 07:58 PM
Today, we have completed work on a replacement for LinkGM for the Grassmaster and GrassMaster II. This new software runs under Windows 7 and below, and will provide all existing users with clean looking new software that can create a feed wedge and Excel spreadsheet using the data output from any GrassMasters. We have to give full credit to Chris Folkers of ASL (Agricultural Software Ltd) for helping with this. The software is a free bundle version of his Feedflo Feedbudget program, which is much more powerful, (and not very expensive in any case).

GMIIConnect will work on any computers with RS232 or USB ports. Ensure that any USB port is listed as COM9 or lower, or the software cannot link up. See extra notes, to be provided in the download pages on our website.

The software requires no registration procedure at all. We apologise for the delay in bringing you an update from LinkGM. We are very close to bringing out the new GMPro, features to be advised.


11th June 2013, 08:12 PM
It has taken a bit longer than we thought, but we are very pleased to announce that the GrassMaster Pro is now ready for sale after our in-house testing phase.

Initially we will sell this system for NZ$1495 + GST.

It has every feature of the GrassMaster II, and uses the same lower probe assembly. This means that existing GMII users have an upgrade path. While the Pro can be 'detuned' to behave like the GMII, it has these extra features:

- Two line backlit display
- USB port for downloads, with USB charge lead or mains USB charger
- Shock sensing data gathering
- Future options for a universal pasture equation by inputting extra data at the start of each farm walk
- Can display the name of each paddock, and its area
- Friendly software for your computer is bundled

These new features mean that the GrassMaster Pro can, and will, take accurate data on dry ground, and by taking account of other factors like the changeable effect of the soil substrate on the meter, has the potential to be the most accurate standing forage instrument in the world. It can also be operated singlehandedly from a quad bike, if used with care.

We are proud of the fact that we have been looking at the physics behind capacitance methods as applied to grass and other forages for several years, and we have protected our findings with no less than three patents. In the course of our investigations, an independent researcher has demonstrated the uncanny accuracy of the technique on a given pasture on a given day (research paper due out soon). We expect to be able to generate a more universal equation(s) for general use on pastoral farms throughout each year.

In the meantime, we have limited stock - these are selling fast - but we will be gearing up to manufacture more.

Included in the kit: One soil temperature probe and booklet, one USB charger and download lead, one GM Pro manual, oil and cloth, CD of software, carry bag, GM Probe assembly, GM Pro Indicator module.

The software bundle allows users to download the 200 paddock data to a computer to generate a feed wedge graph, or to send it to Excel for further analysis. You can also name and size the paddocks on the computer and send it through to the GM Pro. The bundle software can be upgraded to a full version of Feedflo feedbudgeting for minimal cost (about $350 initially plus $100 a year for upgrades and backup).

Of course the units have a 12 month warranty, and we will also back the product up with excellent service and immediate freephone help in work hours. As the units are manufactured on our premises, we have access to all parts and accessories.

19th November 2013, 07:45 PM
Just advising that newer revisions of the GMII and GMPro Connect software are now loaded onto the downloads page of our website. If you are having trouble with the program asking for registration numbers, or in initially updating the GMPro with new paddock names and areas, then this will help. Don't forget that you can also call us during normal work hours from within NZ, on Freephone 0800-003-003. Ask for Graham or Steven, or Brad.

Jump to the downloads page of our website. (http://www.novel.co.nz/downloads.html)

13th October 2014, 09:35 PM
Novel Ways staff are working on a new software program called GrassTrack to bundle with the GrassMaster Pro, and also support older GrassMaster I and II drymatter instruments.

This new software will read in data from RS232 and USB ports, will automatically find the USB port addresses on new computers, and will be fully supported in the years to come. The graphing functions are also more useful. It has a very recognisable Windows look, as it is written in C Sharp.

Both software packages are provided at the moment, and we are handling any minor teething issues as they are advised to us. The GrassTrack program automatically advises when an update is available, if the computer is connected to the web at the time it is started up. Ongoing work will be carried out over the summer break.

13th October 2014, 10:01 PM
Here is a very interesting mini-trial carried out with a GrassMaster II drymatter instrument pitted against a Rising Plate Meter on a mixed paddock of chicory and ryegrass, with some clover, around Hamilton early in 2012. Ten quadrat plots in the paddock were measured by both instruments, then cut, weighed and dried.

You'll see that quadrats had various covers, and three plots were measured after the animals has grazed it down. So this was a real-world comparison, on one paddock, on one day. Many of the usual temperature, soil moisture, forage density, operator error and other factors were thus removed. As the GM II and GM Pro have a smaller sample area size than the RPM, the GM II was used to take readings on each quadrat nine times (spaced) and then averaged. The RPM had only one reading, but the quadrat position was chosen to help get good data (little pugging or other issues). The plotted data shows the actual CWD against instrument readings, with a calculated y=mx+c linear equation fitted to the data by Excel.

The GM II, on that paddock and on that day, produced nearly perfect results! A correlation of 0.9953 is very impressive.

It means that on a given day, our probe can very accurately grade paddocks, if the conditions are similar through the paddocks, and that if we can predict a suitable equation to use on the day, we can also come up with very accurate drymatter contents in kgDM/Ha for each paddock.

By comparison, the RPM had an error of up to 660kgDM/Ha in each quadrat, while the GMII had a worst error of just 100kgDM/Ha.

19th November 2014, 03:14 PM
The latest version of GrassTrack (V1.0.2) has been stored on our website downloads page.

This is a small code enhancement to allow GrassMaster Pro operation on Windows 8 platforms, an issue that was pointed out to us. Remember that whenever you are running GrassTrack while the computer is conected to the web, GrassTrack will search for the latest version on our website and offer you an immediate upgrade. No data will be lost from choosing that, and generally it's a good idea to have the latest version. GrassTrack is designed to work with all models of the GrassMaster drymatter instrument.


9th December 2014, 07:51 AM
We are working on a revision of the GM Pro manual that helps with GrassTrack operation. We have some exciting code upgrades planned. New research data coming in from Australia and NZ confirms the often uncanny accuracy of our probe in measuring standing forage drymatter in pastures.

With high land prices over here, farmers have to use precision in their operations, especially when output prices drop in world markets, subject to intense competition. Here's a very relevant article for dairy farmers.


27th July 2015, 07:26 PM
The latest update to the GrassMaster Pro code was completed a few weeks ago. The code version is now V3.03, and is available on our website downloads page. The GM Pro manual has also been updated to reflect this. All code upgrades to GrassTrack and the Indicator now work fine with no hitches from V3.03 onwards, but if you have older code installed, we might need to do the free upgrade for you, one last time. After that, the free upgrades will be automatic via the web.

The new code gives a preliminary implementation of our patented calibration estimation technique for standing drymatter instruments. The operator can estimate and probe the forage cover within two small 0.2m2 quadrats or areas, and use this to define the linear equation in use on the instrument for that forage type, on that day of the farm walk. It's a process that takes just two minutes before the main farm walk.

Let's say the farm is using rye/clover pasture mixes in most paddocks. The main calibration is done on that forage type, but the instrument will also know which paddocks are Chicory, Lucerne, Plantain or herb mixes etc, so will prompt the user for another calibration on those special paddocks when the operator gets there, and will revert to the main equation on all rye/clover paddocks.

In this way, by not allowing the equation to be too rigid, the instrument is far more likely to be correctly calibrated for different conditions and forages, in any country and pastoral situation throughout the world.

Which is just as well, because we are sending the GrassMaster Pro units to customers in Peru, South Africa, Japan, USA and Australia, just within the last two weeks!

We all know that one of the big secrets to profitable pastoral farming is growing and utilising more forage on-farm. We think we have the world's most accurate standing drymatter instrument already, and it'll only get better.

15th September 2015, 07:10 PM
This evaluation of the latest Grassmaster Pro unit is courtesy of our development partner for the product, Roger Martyn, BAgSc.

GrassMaster Pro developments: September 2015. By Roger Martyn, GrazeTech, Tasmania, Australia (http://www.grazetech.com.au/pasture-meter-grassmaster-pro).

A significant update to the GrassMaster Pro pasture probe operating system has been released in the last couple of months. This has been the culmination of over 3 years of ongoing R&D that has taken place since the 'Pro' series replaced the GrassMaster II series in 2012. It is in fact now 20 years since the introduction of the very first GrassMaster pasture probe, all of which use the capacitance technique.

In essence, the new GrassMaster Pro operating system makes it a lot easier to use, and it now incorporates a very innovative means of recalibrating the unit as pasture dry matter content changes throughout a season.

Trials I have carried out here in Tasmania show pasture dry matter percentage content (DM%) will range from as low as 10% in the very early flush of spring to up to 55% in late summer, when conditions are dry but pastures are still actively growing. The DM% differences over the season can result in up to two-fold variances between device readings and actual kg dry matter per hectare (kgDM/ha) content as measured by Cut Weigh and Dry (CWD) means.

These DM% changes coupled with seasonal changes in pasture plant morphology - as pastures change from their vegetative to reproductive phases effect the accuracy of ALL types of pasture measurement devices currently commercially available, including plate meters. This is something few actually appreciate. While these differences are indeed very large, the good news is that for a good deal of a pasture's seasonal growth, the DM percentages tend to fall within the 18% to 25% range, the same band pasture measurement devices generally have default calibration equations set to.

For the record, pasture growth beginning mid spring and into the summer and on until pastures start 'going to seed' typically fall within the 18% to 25% DM range. After that, DM%'s steadily climb to as high as 60%; the timing of which is determined by weather conditions and soil fertility. Early spring and early autumn conditions, however, can see DM percentages plummet to as low as even 8%, particularly in overcast weather and in nitrogen boosted conditions. Winter-time tends to see stable DM content of around 20%. The important thing to appreciate though is that the big swings in DM% content tend to coincide with critical animal feed management times, such as when dairy cows are commencing their lactation. In Autumn, after cows have been dried off, they often need extra DM allowance to improve their condition, just when farm pasture covers are lower. Getting this right at such times can greatly improve the success of the remaining season, in terms of animal production or the farm feed situation.

This is why it is important to be able to easily recalibrate your pasture measurement device if needed. For most, this simply does not happen, due partly to a lack of really knowing which calibration equation to choose, even if the manufacturer's manual suggests one. Alternatively, you could do a more accurate CWD calibration, but for most this invariably ends up simply not happening. This is because CWDs can be time consuming, and for many are overly complicated and confusing to bother with.

What the GrassMaster recalibration system does, is it allows the user to very easily and quickly recalibrate and improve the machine’s measurement accuracy, significantly. While the calibration will not to be as accurate as a full-blown CWD calibration, it will be much better than doing nothing at all, and for many surprisingly so. And here's why.

The logic behind the new recalibration system is based on the following.
Trials in dairy and sheep and beef research have repeatedly demonstrated that experienced pasture managers can assess pasture mass (kg DM/ha) to levels similar to those of actual CWD assessment.

The GrassMaster Pro has very highly correlated machine readings against actual pasture mass i.e. the machine readings taken before the equation calibration converts them into kgDM/ha readings have a very tight relationship with CWDs on a given day in similar forage and nearby locations.

By introducing a procedure into the GrassMaster Pro whereby an experienced pasture manager can sample a 'short' or low cover area of pasture, and scroll or key in his/her visual estimate of the same sample area, and repeat again for another 'long' or high cover pasture sample area, it is possible using the GrassMaster Pro's processing power to create a specific calibration equation. All the hard maths gets done behind the scenes. The operator simply has to scroll in how many kg DM/ha he/she thinks are present in each imaginary sample area.

And this is what we've done. It is extremely quick to do, and dead easy. We refer to it as the 'Quadrat estimate option”.

The net effect is that an experienced pasture manager can quickly visually calibrate the GrassMaster Pro, and then hand over the unit to a less experienced staff member to continue measuring the farm, confident the day’s data has good integrity, and certainly a whole lot better that what it might have been if no alterations were made. We believe this new feature to be a huge advance in modern pasture measurement technology.

Since the GrassMaster Pro retains the raw data for each paddock reading, should an operator choose to do CWD's at the same time, the paddock readings can all be retrospectively changed after download. A future version will allow this to be done on the actual GrassMaster Pro as well.

The GrassMaster Pro offers the Quadrat estimate as a preferred option, or it offers a chosen equation option. The unit facilitates up to 9 different fixed equation selections, each of which is fully adjustable. This might be useful, for example, if a farm has several pasture types that justify different equations- say ryegrass in one paddock followed by pure chicory stand in the next and so on. However, the quadrat estimate technique can be used on any forage and during any conditions, so it is capable of generating hundreds of equations to suit the environment.

The GrassMaster Pro also now incorporates 'accelerometer' measurement triggering technology. An accelerometer is that bit of technology present in modern smart phones and tablets that allow the screen to know when to flip from portrait to landscape. The technology is also used for apps, such as in games, or in recording the number of strides one walks in a day. The GrassMaster Pro utilises the same technology to sense when the probe has hit the ground, to trigger a measurement. This is facilitating much quicker measuring with less forced errors, allowing the device to be used, for example, off the side of a quad bike without outpacing itself. This is a real boon for large farms and trial areas.

Another very significant development is that this latest version (V3.03) now facilitates system upgrades via the internet. This will accelerate product development in the future, and greatly extends the technological life of the purchase.

6th October 2015, 09:00 PM
Today, a standard model GrassMaster Pro drymatter instrument was calibrated on just two 0.2m2 quadrats (low and high cover), using averaged skilled eye assessments supplied for the "actual" by several trained agronomy professionals. There was still dew on the grass, largely rye and clover mix throughout the farm, the soil was damp. About 16 readings were taken in each quadrat, spaced apart and averaged. The resultant linear equation was used to follow behind two highly skilled whole paddock assessors, over 15-20 paddocks. Of the paddocks that were compared, the calibrated GM Pro gave very similar average covers, within 200kgDM/Ha of the average between the two assessors. Often the agreement was within less than 50kg. The paddocks ranged from an estimated cover of 1,300kg to over 4,000kg.

The research establishment must not be mentioned, because we were just tagging along behind as we had requested. But I was very pleased with those results, especially since the conditions were not perfect for GrassMaster use. In some paddocks only 25-30 samples were taken towards an average, when more would have been preferred. An RPM unit was used on quadrat cuts, but not used on the paddocks.

We'll make a few small improvements to the GM Pro code so that we are working at the same speed as the eye assessors (we weren't a great deal slower), and try out some ideas for cleaning the probe quickly during a farm walk.

Summary: A very promising day. I don't think there has ever been a drymatter instrument used anywhere in NZ that has been as accurate as that, over a range of paddocks.