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Realising the Value of Soil Moisture Monitoring

The NIWA seasonal climatic outlook confirms we are moving into an El Niño season for 2023-24. While the Southern Oscillation Index is still neutral, the Pacific Sea Surface Temperatures have now exceeded the El Niño thresholds. For Canterbury El Niño typically means stronger or more frequent winds from the west, leading to an elevated risk of drier-than-normal conditions.

The risk of a dry season means managing the amount and timing of irrigation is crucial. For cropping farmers it’s about ensuring crops have enough water at critical growth stages. Seed fill is particularly important, closely monitoring your irrigation at this time will typically increase yields by 5-10%. For pasture farms it’s about careful management of seasonal allocations, avoiding overuse early in the season so there’s enough water left to continue grass production through a dry autumn. The best way to achieve this is using a reliable soil moisture monitoring service.

So what constitutes a reliable service? Primary Insight believes there’s three key components farmers should be looking for in their soil moisture service provider:

1. An understanding of agronomy and soils

For a soil moisture trace to be useful the full-point and irrigation trigger point need to be set correctly. This needs an understanding of the crop and soil, otherwise the trace is worthless.

2. A proven reliable sensor

The adage of “you get what you pay for” very much holds true. Cheaper probes have a limited lifespan and their traces drift over time. Recently a farmer asked us to look at the traces from 8 probes they’d purchased at the beginning of last season (at a price of $800 each). Unfortunately only 4 were still useful as 2 had flatlined, and 2 had drift issues. They are now switching over to Sentek probes which are proven to provide reliable readings for +10-years.

3. An understanding of where to locate and how to install the probe

It’s always frustrating when we go on farm and the existing soil moisture probe is installed under the fenceline, just inside the gateway, or has been 'caged' or fenced off. Probe sensors take readings from the soil immediately around it, so to be useful it’s paramount they are installed in a representative location. Soil to sensor contact is also key and this requires careful installation, particularly in stony solls.

The team at Primary Insight will help you make money from soil moisture monitoring while ticking your Farm Plan compliance box as a side hustle. We understand agronomy and soils alongside how to correctly locate and install a probe. While Sentek probes are our preferred monitoring option (as it’s the most reliable probe on the market) we can also support you with the use of other probes.

Phone Andrew or Cindy to find out more or join us in person at one of our free irrigation workshops this spring. Check out the event listings on our website for more information on dates and locations You’ll also get a certificate of attendance that satisfies your Farm Environment Plan irrigation training requirements!


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