Leading the charge to improve water quality
When tasked with a challenge, Mokotua sheep and beef farmer Ray McCrostie likes to take the bull by the horns. Through innovative technology Ray continues to lead the charge in the environmental space, with the benefits evident in every aspect of his farming operation. He shares his why and encourages others to take the leap and do the same.
Ray has been farming at Mokotua in the Waituna catchment for 52 years and has tackled many challenges in this time - none bigger than water quality. It’s a story that’s been shared a few times, how having a beer with automation engineer Richard Dean and water scientist Clint Rissmann led to the development of Derrick, a machine that automatically analyses all aspects of water quality on his farm. “My role was to bring the practical to something that is quite complex.”
“It’s just my cocky logic, the New Zealand attitude – this idea has potential, so I’ll give it a crack.” Ray took a big leap when it came to developing Derrick. “In order to get ahead in this environmental game, we’re going to need to take risks and put ourselves out there.”
Measuring water quality on his property came with some potential risks about what the analysis would uncover, but Ray had always been doing the work to future proof his farm for the next generation. It is in three different forms of measurement from Derrick, all changeable in different ways, which has helped him further shape his farming operation, from the water and soil through to the stock and feed taken off the land.
The first, he says, is the electronics, which can be independently set to a level across multiple situations, be it rural or urban. They can also be cross-referenced with the second measurement, the laboratory analysis. The most important though, the third measurement is the cross-check in the performance of stock and the overall farming operation. “Observation shows you would think we are doing something right.”
The analysis from Derrick has meant Ray has been able to make adjustments to many decisions in his day to day farming, such as his fertiliser mix. “I’ve added gypsum to the mix, which is in gib board, as a matter to bind particles in the soil and it’s a good source of magnesium.” It is that sort of thinking that has seen the risk Ray has taken, turn into reward, which is why he is surprised more farmers haven’t jumped at the concept of Derrick.
The correlation between the water analysis, resulting from good environmental management practices and the feed quality and stock health on-farm, should pique all farmers’ interests, he says. By way of example: A recent baleage cut, which a dairy farmer Ray was selling the bales to had estimated he would get 40-50 bales from – he pulled off 90. Only days before he had also taken off works' lambs, which had averaged 21kg. Most farmers would have baleage paddocks closed off for weeks to achieve the best quality cut possible, but Ray had managed to do both, because of the information Derrick was providing him.
There are further improvements planned for Derrick, which he has worked on with his son, Carl. These will include more sensors, a twin cabinet design and testing of dissolved oxygen. The current Derrick is only the prototype. “There is no end goal - I’ll stop when I’m dead,” he says, laughing.