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Farmers To Gain Benefit From High-Tech Soil Moisture System

19 March 2012

The bringing together of the Ministry of Science and Innovation’s (MSI) undergraduate internship scheme and Frizzell Agricultural Electronics Hydrotec system is reaping benefits for farmers. Matt Almutairi, a recent graduate, and Dr Stuart Charters from Lincoln University’s Department of Applied Computing have been working with Nick and Alastair Frizzell to automate the data handling, communicating via SMS, of the Hydrotec system.

“Over the last five years Frizzell Agricultural Electronics has developed and tested a unique soil moisture management system,” says Alastair Frizzell.

“The Hydrotec system provides irrigation farmers with not only information on historical and current soil moisture but also provides daily predictions on future requirements. The system, however, has been limited in its application by the need for daily manual input to send out the data to farmers.”

As a Lincoln University graduate himself, Nick Frizzell was aware of the skills available and sought an intern under the MSI undergraduate internship scheme to assist with the next phase of Hydrotec’s development. Matt Almutairi’s skills were matched with the Frizzell Agricultural Electronics’ project.

Matt and Nick began their research into the project by interviewing farmers to find out the information the farmers needed and how it could be presented to make it user friendly. The conclusion they came to was that while most farmers checked emails occasionally, virtually all had cell phones or smart phones and this allowed them to access information as they went around the farm.

Matt found the talks with the farmers “were a real eye opener”. The message received from the farmers was that often the time when soil moisture information was needed was when an irrigator was about to be shifted. The information was needed on the job in the paddock, not back on a computer at the house or office.

The MSI undergraduate internship scheme has provided benefits for Lincoln University, Matt and Frizzell Agricultural Electronics.

Lincoln University’s Dr Stuart Charters mentored Matt to bring this project together for Frizzell Agricultural Electronics. “The attraction for students to study at Lincoln University is our focus on understanding and evaluating existing and developing new techniques and theories and applying them to solve real world problems. The MSI internship provides one vehicle for students to solve a real world problem and for an organisation to develop an innovative product.”

Matt adds that the main benefit for him was “that I had to learn new technologies for the development of the soil moisture software. This was a great opportunity to increase my knowledge and my portfolio.”

Alastair Frizzell commented that the project would have been beyond the technical resources of the company. “We could not have done the project without the support of Stuart Charters and the other staff at Lincoln University. The whole project has been a team effort”.

After the internship is completed Matt will start his next project for a dairy consultant in Canterbury to develop online systems for the management and administration of dairy farms. Taking the knowledge and practical skills gained at Lincoln University, Matt has co-founded a website and app development company ‘Crazyweb’ and plans to expand his business in the near future.

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About the Department of Applied Computing, Faculty of Environment, Society and Design, Lincoln University
The Department of Applied Computing at Lincoln University involves using computing technology to solve real world problems. The University teaches courses in programming, systems analysis, databases, hardware, operating systems, networking, end user computing and simulation. The Department is also strongly involved in research and postgraduate teaching leading to honours, masters and PhD degrees.

About Frizzell Agricultural Electronics
Frizzell Agricultural Electronics create leading electronic measurement systems specifically targeting farmers, horticulturists and amenity managers. The Hydrotec system collects soil moisture, soil temperature and precipitation information from a crop or pasture. The information is sent via the cell phone network to Frizzell Agricultural Electronics’ office at Kirwee. The information, including predictive information using weather forecasting, is sent directly to the farmer via email or once the current project is finished by text message via a smart phone app.

About the Ministry of Science and Innovation Undergraduate Internships
The programme aims to give New Zealand’s future innovators a head start through experience in a commercial research environment. Funding is provided to larger businesses that run internship programmes as well as smaller businesses that are developing their first innovative product. The internship programme provides funding for up to 400 hours of work.

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ENDS

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