Making Precision Agriculture Work In Australia

Australia crop
Most broadacre growers in Australia already use some forms of precision ag on their land, but the opportunity to expand this is still infinite despite a unique set of challenges in the country.

Editor’s note: Reinder Prins is Market Development Manager for Cotton Growers Service in Wee Waa, NSW, Australia, where he is responsible for the company’s Precision Agriculture program. In the article below, he introduces the unique set of circumstances that make it challenging to fit precision ag technologies into Australian agriculture. In future stories on PrecisionAg.com, Prins will share more insight into the state of the precision ag industry in his country, including where it has come from and where it is headed.

With the introduction of an increasing amount of services and products that can be classified as ‘Precision Agriculture’, it is easy to lose track of what the actual premise of precision agriculture is. Depending on who you ask, the definition of precision agriculture will include the observing, measuring and responding to inter and intra-field variability in crops with the goal of creating a more uniform crop. So in other words, by looking at small parts of a field instead of treating the field as one whole management unit, growers get the opportunity to work on individual management zones and by doing this they aim to lift the overall profits of a field.

Growers around the world face a unique set of circumstances and, depending on weather, soil, demand for commodities and other factors, will use precision ag tools in a completely different way to suit their situation. I grew up in a farming environment in The Netherlands but have spent the last 6 years working in Australian agriculture; I doubt there is a bigger difference in circumstances between any two countries in the world! Many new technologies that hail from North America or Europe have an excellent fit in those environments with fertile soils, relatively high annual rainfall and a long established farming culture, whereas in Australia we sometimes struggle to see the fit in our environment or are unable to rationalize the spending necessary to introduce a particular technology.

The way I see it, in places like The Netherlands and other European countries, as well as the corn belt in the U.S. for example, rainfall is the great unknown variable, which certain precision ag technologies attempt to mitigate. In this case, it is relatively easy for a grower to rationalize spending money on a new technique, as it can help them deal with an environmental influence that is always present. Some examples of this technology are planting at a variable depth, variable rate seeding, variable rate nitrogen applications, etc. In Australia on the other hand, large areas of prime agricultural land rely on water from reservoirs for irrigation whereas other growers plant dryland crops with minimal prospects of in-crop rain.

In the area where I work for example, the average annual rainfall is only 26 inches, whereas in the 2016-17 summer crop season, we had 52 consecutive days above 98 degrees (37 Celsius). Thus, rainfall is not the variable that needs mitigating in this case! Often, irrigated yields in Australia are more like the rain-grown yields in the big crop growing areas of the northern hemisphere, while the yield of rain-grown crops (or dryland crops as we like to call them) in Australia are something else completely. In our area it is not unheard of for growers not to be able to plant crops for 3 years straight due to lack of moisture, only to be hit by a big flood in the year after.

This then presents the next issue: with irregular plantings and marginal profits, how do you incorporate precision ag in dryland situations? And on irrigated fields, the amount of water applied can be decided by the grower – due to lack of rainfall there is very little variability here in most years, so where does precision ag have a fit in this situation?

I often get told by friends in the U.S. that growers in certain areas are happy to spend $20 per acre per year on precision ag services as the benefits are pretty obvious. Where dryland yields in Australia are often marginal and even the big irrigation reservoirs only have an average reliability of being able to provide water to irrigators every 3 out of 5 years, what is a reasonable amount of money for a grower to spend on precision ag?

Most broadacre growers in Australia already use some forms of precision ag on their land, but the opportunity to expand this is still infinite. In my future stories for PrecisionAg.com I would like to share with you the story of precision agriculture in Australia; where it has come from, where we are now and where we are headed. Feel free to contact me on [email protected] in the meantime!

Leave a Reply

One comment on “Making Precision Agriculture Work In Australia

  1. You raise some very good points Reinder, I farmed for 30 years, the last 10 revolved around implementing a controlled traffic ,permanent bed min till farming system in Sugar cane under full irrigation. Our aim was to return the best $/Ha that we could, P.A was a big part of that, understanding paddock variability and managing those zones to their potential, with nutrients, and irrigation were our biggest drivers. Economics is in my opinion the key driver, once we have reliable information about paddock yield variability we can then look at the % difference in yield zones, then put a $ figure on it and decide if it is worth investigating.

Ag Tech Global Stories
Ag Tech GlobalFarmobile Continues Connecting the Dots, adds Buyer to Data Store
March 21, 2017
Farmobile announced today that Guy Carpenter, a global risk and reinsurance specialist, will purchase enhanced data sets to help optimize Read More
Soil sampling Brazil
Ag Tech GlobalAn Overview Of Precision Ag In Brazil
March 17, 2017
Brazil is a huge player in international agriculture and precision farming is helping to increase productivity. With diverse crop production, Read More
Brazil soil corn crop
Ag Tech GlobalA Precision Agriculture Project Starts With A Solid Foundation
March 13, 2017
I am a big fan of technologies in agriculture. I have become so impressed with the evolution of products and services Read More
Ag Tech GlobalCalifornia Ag Tech Outfit Releasing Internet-of-Crops Platform
March 10, 2017
Centaur Analytics, a leading AgTech company that provides real-time, crops monitoring and protection solutions, today announced it has opened advanced registration for its Read More
Trending Articles
Downed Drone
DronesOpinion: The Agricultural Drone War Is Over, And They Lost
March 15, 2017
If you are late to the aerial imagery party and think that agricultural drones are the vehicle that are the Read More
Nebraska Farmer
Business ManagementA Right To Repair: Why Nebraska Farmers Are Taking On John Deere And Apple
March 10, 2017
There are corn and soy fields as far as the eye can see around Kyle Schwarting’s home in Ceresco, NE, Read More
Australia crop
Ag Tech GlobalMaking Precision Agriculture Work In Australia
March 6, 2017
Editor’s note: Reinder Prins is Market Development Manager for Cotton Growers Service in Wee Waa, NSW, Australia, where he is Read More
ScoutPro | ScoutPro
Decision Support Software17 Field Scouting Apps For Precision Agriculture
February 6, 2017
There are dozens of easy-to-use mobile apps that are ideal for every day field scouting tasks. From record keeping and Read More
John Deere Dealership
Business ManagementAg Retailer, Equipment Dealer Improve Service By Working Together
January 27, 2017
Some believe that in many aspects of life, timing is everything. Among those believers, please count Randy Bartholomew, Integrated Solutions Read More
Innovation SeriesPrecision To Lead Agriculture In 2017?
January 25, 2017
Another new year is upon us! And I’m certain I speak for many in the agricultural world when I say Read More
Latest News
Farmer with iPad
Data ManagementRegaining Control Of Field Data
March 23, 2017
When it comes to creating and building value with farmer-customers, service providers today have new allies to support their efforts. Read More
Y-Drop 360 Yield
Tools & Smart EquipmentSplit Nitrogen Application: Where The 4Rs Get Real
March 23, 2017
When Illinois Grower Jeremy Wilson hit the farm conference circuit these past two years, one of his talks was always Read More
Hort TechSciFi in Ag: Robots Could Take Multi-Hybrid Planting Ne…
March 23, 2017
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Erich Eller ForeFront Ag Solutions with Ag Eagle-drone
Business ManagementForeFront Ag Solutions: Going Beyond The Averages
March 22, 2017
He’s flying essentially solo these days with business support from his wife Jennifer, but Erich Eller has big dreams for Read More
Ag Tech GlobalFarmobile Continues Connecting the Dots, adds Buyer to …
March 21, 2017
Farmobile announced today that Guy Carpenter, a global risk and reinsurance specialist, will purchase enhanced data sets to help optimize Read More
Valley Irrigation 8000 series corn
Hort TechValley Irrigation Now Exclusive OEM Provider of Trimble…
March 21, 2017
Valley Irrigation and Trimble announced that Valley Irrigation will become the exclusive OEM distributor of Trimble’s Irrigate-IQ precision irrigation solution, according Read More
Farmer Brad Hagen inspects cover crops
Business ManagementTop 5 Features Of A Good Sustainability Program
March 20, 2017
In a recent study, 60% of Iowa farmers agreed that their fertilizer dealers should do more to help them address Read More
Soil sampling Brazil
Ag Tech GlobalAn Overview Of Precision Ag In Brazil
March 17, 2017
Brazil is a huge player in international agriculture and precision farming is helping to increase productivity. With diverse crop production, Read More
Web Soil Survey soils map
Imagery/SensingCan The Web Soil Survey Help To Uncover Answers To Prec…
March 16, 2017
A farming magazine recently published an article of an interview of two experts discussing how understanding the topography of a Read More
Downed Drone
DronesOpinion: The Agricultural Drone War Is Over, And They L…
March 15, 2017
If you are late to the aerial imagery party and think that agricultural drones are the vehicle that are the Read More
Ag Retailer and Growers with tablet WinField United
Data ManagementEliminating Human Error In Precision Ag Data Documentat…
March 15, 2017
As precision ag consultants, we spend a lot of time working with clients to implement best management practices to acquire Read More
Curve Compensation ExactEmerge
ProfessionalsHow To Avoid Yield Loss Using Curve Compensation
March 15, 2017
Planting is often considered the most important step in a farming operation. For this reason, there have been many advancements Read More
IMPAC video
Hort TechHow Precision Agriculture Is Helping Farmers Win Over C…
March 14, 2017
“Your Food, Your Farmer” is a simple mantra, but one that resonates loudly with many of today’s consumers, writes Paul Read More
Brazil soil corn crop
Ag Tech GlobalA Precision Agriculture Project Starts With A Solid Fou…
March 13, 2017
I am a big fan of technologies in agriculture. I have become so impressed with the evolution of products and services Read More
Nebraska Farmer
Business ManagementA Right To Repair: Why Nebraska Farmers Are Taking On J…
March 10, 2017
There are corn and soy fields as far as the eye can see around Kyle Schwarting’s home in Ceresco, NE, Read More
Ag Tech GlobalCalifornia Ag Tech Outfit Releasing Internet-of-Crops P…
March 10, 2017
Centaur Analytics, a leading AgTech company that provides real-time, crops monitoring and protection solutions, today announced it has opened advanced registration for its Read More
Ag Retailer and Grower WinField United
ProfessionalsTop 5 Reasons Why Ag Retailers Need To Lead The Way In …
March 8, 2017
Smack dab in the middle of Iowa, you will find Casey’s General Store headquarters. For those of you who have Read More
Corn close up
Decision Support SoftwareUX in Ag: What are we Trying to do?
March 8, 2017
As designers, we’ve always considered ourselves outsiders—the unbiased third party in the agriculture world, writes co-authors Kayla Byington and Nick Read More