In this post I discuss solutions to New Zealand’s nitrogen pollution issue.
While I was at Gather yesterday I had two more ideas.
1. Barking Drones
Drones can already herd sheep. I’m sure if they barked they could herd cows. Moving cow campsites every night would distribute the Critical Source Areas (CSAs) and have a significant impact. A really smart drone might even be able to move an individual cow three meters south east to avoid an existing urine patch or move them mid-event!
2. Top-dressing Drones
Instead of one large chemical dump, drones could be used to distribute tiny payloads to targeted sites. They could be solar powered and use the internet to predict rainfall.
There is no reason the same drone could not do both jobs. They would both build a map of nitrogen distribution over time… smart farming.
With rotational grazing on Dairy farms the campsites are less of an issues. So braking drones would be best used in Beef farms or run off areas (dry stock).
I did the math on using a splash drone (all weather) for fertiliser application:
Splash Drone $2,200. 45kph, 35min to charge, 17min flight time, Max wind speed 40 kmph, Lift 1kg.
I will assume 1 minute to get payload.
45kmph speed for 15mins = 11.25km travelled.
The average NZ Dairy farm is 150ha. 1 ha = 200m return flight.
The done needs to be able to fly 150*200 30,000m or 30km
So the drone either needs to be in the middle of the farm, carry more battery and less payload or the farm needs two drones.
Equip farm with sensors so drone can fly 24hrs by itself.
35min charge + 20 minute run + refuelling = 26 trips per day or 26kg per day, 9,490kg PA.
94 kg N/ha/yr = 14,100 kg PA.
So you would need 1.3 drone stations on the average farm, but the hope is that with regular and targeted applications volume can drop dramatically. It would require a very large solar array, maybe a 20K system with big batteries if you are flying at night.
I had some help from Lucas this year and we pulled out some really big bits of trash. The most interesting thing being an entire cash register! I had pulled the shopping trolley in the photo out of the creek a few months ago when it first went in. I did call PAK’nSave and give them an address for where their expensive trolley was. Unfortunately it was eventually biffed back in the creek and is now ruined.
1:15 today, I was horrified to discover Omaru creek had gone white. I called the Pollution prevention hotline case #14/1714.
If this is a regular thing (blasters are supposed to divert the downpipes) then I bet 90% + of the zinc contamination in the Tamaki Estuary comes from water blasting roofs, not regular wear from rainfall.
UPDATE: 4:30 PM
Pollution prevention made it out and then went to talk to the TRC (Tamaki Recreation Centre). Apparently they need to make sure their contractors are not cutting corners and doing horrible stuff like this. I believe the TRC is a council facility partnership.
UPDATE: 2 Days later and I can’t see any obvious ecological damage. I imagine it would be more obvious in a less polluted stream. Like a lot of contamination events the effects will be largely long-term.
UPDATE: 30 July. A super nice guy from the TRC got in touch, they were very concerned about the event and have put in place processes to make sure it does not happen again.
Access also gave me a call, they told me this was a one off accident. The council confirmed this and accordingly let them off with a small fine of around $400). I think the maximum fine is only $1,000, if Mr Burns was running one of these companies he would definitely risk it (given the difficulty in detection). Access invited me down to give a 15min talk to the team about the Auckland environment, which I did. They also walked me through some of their process which are designed to keep the contaminants out of the stormwater system. Most interesting to me was listening to the guys talk about their day while I waited for the meeting to start, they are tasked with cleaning up some really toxic stuff. I put hundreds of hours into helping the environment every year, but these guys can probably make a bigger difference in just a few hours by doing the right thing.