Hierarchy of Pasture Measurement Tools

Your pasture measurement barriers:

Everything deteriorates with time – equipment, infrastructure, and pastures. They deteriorate even more rapidly if you don’t manage them.

When not managed well, pasture yields reduce and growth rates slow down.

Measuring your pasture growth rate is a critical piece of the pasture management puzzle. Because what gets measured, gets managed.

As a farmer, you already do a lot. You already take part in calving, milking, ensuring that animals get fed, and addressing on-farm emergencies. So, pasture management can take a backseat.

But by doing so, you lose opportunities to increase your farm productivity and earn better profits. The advantages of measuring and managing your pasture far outweigh the benefits of not doing it. Yet many of us don’t do it.

At least we don’t measure our pastures as often as we should…

Why? Because measuring our pastures costs us both money and effort.

Pasture Measurement Tools:

Some popular pasture measurement tools include RPMs, C-Dax meters, electronic motes, self-driving bots, drones, and satellite-based services.

RPMs are cheap to buy, but can cost a lot in terms of labor and effort.

But which is the right tool for you? To answer that, we need to understand how much each tool costs you.

Monetary Costs:

When we talk about costs it is easy to merely think about the money you spend, while buying a measurement tool.

A C-Dax meter attachment costs more than $6,000 to buy. And you’ll also continue to pay hundreds of dollars a year, in labor & maintenance.

However, in reality, in addition to the purchase cost, there are also labor, maintenance, and opportunity costs involved.

Purchase Costs:

This is simply the cost of buying a tool or using a service. For instance, you can buy an RPM for 300 dollars, a C-Dax pasture meter for about 6,000 dollars, and drones for several thousand dollars.

In case you use a drone or satellite-based service, your purchase costs will be your service or subscription fee, for as long as you use the service.

On-farm hardware equipment like farmotes can be 3x to 5x more costlier than satellite-based pasture measurement services like Pasture.io. Image Source: farmote.com

Labor Costs:

Pasture measurement tools don’t work by themselves.

You need a person to make use of them. For instance, to take measurements, you need to walk with an RPM, attach a C-Dax to an ATV and ride it, install electronic motes, work with drone image processing software or analyze satellite-based information on your smartphone.

Depending on the tool, it can take as long as six hours or as little as a few minutes to measure about 200 ha of pasture. Ensure that you factor in this.

Futuristic bots like this maybe a convenient alternative. But will they be as cost-effective as satellite-based pasture measurement services?

Maintenance Costs:

Everything you buy also needs to be maintained.

RPMs and C-Dax meters need to be cleaned and cared for. On-farm electronic poles need to be checked for damages. And drones need to serviced.

When something wears out or breaks down, they need to repaired or replaced. All of this will cost you money. Most farmers don’t take into account these maintenance costs. But make sure you do.

If you use a satellite-based or drone service, you will have zero maintenance costs, as you don’t have to own or maintain anything.

Drones look promising. But will service providers make it easier for farmers to collect and analyze their pasture growth data? Only time can tell.

Opportunity Costs:

This is what you will pay in terms of lost farm productivity and unrealized profits, in case you don’t measure your pasture accurately, or even worse fail to measure it at all.

While this is hard to quantify, it can cost you dearly if you are not careful.

Effort Involved:

Costs are significant, but they are not everything.

As a farmer, you also have limited cognition and capacity to work. So, you are also interested in how much effort a particular pasture measurement tool will demand from you. Lesser the effort, more likely you are to use it.

Getting pasture measurements:

For instance, if you use RPMs, you will need about six hours of effort to measure 100 ha of pasture. With a C-Dax attachment, you will need about two hours to do the same thing. Drones will take less than an hour, and satellite-based services will do this for you automatically in a minute.

For $8/ ha/ year, satellite-based services like Pasture.io will automatically send your pasture growth measurements, several times a week. You can analyze this data on your computer, tablet or phone.

Analyzing pasture measurements:

Getting the measurements is just one part of the deal. To make effective grazing decisions based on these measurements, you also have to analyze them. The effort is maximum for pen-paper based tools such as RPMs.

Electronic tools such as C-Dax, motes, and electronic plate meters make it slightly easier because they collect data digitally. However, you cannot analyze the data seamlessly using these tools. To analyze it, you will still need to transmit the data on to your computer via Bluetooth or internet.

Drones make it easier to transmit the measurements, but you still have to use image processing software to analyze the results before you can use it to make grazing decisions.

This is where satellite-based pasture measurement services offer a real competitive advantage. They help you get measurements automatically. And you can analyze this data effortlessly on any device.

The higher up you go this hierarchy of tools, the more accurate and cost-effective they become.

Find your right pasture measurement tool:

To save your time, I have mapped all the popular pasture measurement tools with respect to how much money and effort they will each cost you.

Pasture measurement tools mapped against how much cost and effort they each need.

As you can see, satellite-based pasture measurement services cost the least because it has no purchase and maintenance costs. And because you get the data and analysis automatically, in a few taps, right on your smartphone, it also requires the least amount of effort.

On the other hand, RPMs and C-Dax meters can cost you thousands of dollars in associated labor and maintenance costs. Futuristic bots and on-farm hardware motes also have purchase and maintenance costs.

Drones come a close second to satellite services, in terms of monetary costs. But they still need you to stitch the images together and make sense of the data. So they too demand a reasonable amount of effort.

But satellite-based pasture measurement services are hands down the clear winners with respect to cost and effort.

Are you a commercial dairy farm, larger than 200 hectares, looking to maximize your pasture yields? Then you might be interested in our automatic pasture measurement service that starts at $8 per ha per year.

Our farmers have already made a 40x return on their investment with us.

Note: I originally wrote and published this for pasture.io/measurement-tools/hierarchy