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.

Australia/New Zealand Stories
Farmer with iPad
Australia/New ZealandAgrian Expands into Australia
September 20, 2017
In line with a familiar growth trajectory, Agrian Inc. is moving into Australia with a physical support and sales presence Read More
Petra-Andren-Cicada-Innovations
Australia/New ZealandGrowLab’s Rocket Fuel for AgTech in Australia
September 19, 2017
Despite its superpower status as a producer and exporter of agricultural goods and services, up until now Australia has had Read More
Wheat sunrise
Australia/New ZealandSparkLabs Group Launches an Agricultural Tech Accelerator Called Cultiv8 in Australia
September 15, 2017
SparkLabs Group, which claims to be the largest startup accelerator group in Asia, is stepping into agricultural tech with a Read More
AgQuip overview
Australia/New ZealandAgQuip 2017 Displays New Ag Technology in Australia
August 28, 2017
The annual AgQuip field days took place in Gunnedah, NSW on August 22-24. Being the largest agricultural field days in Read More
Trending Articles
John-Deere-labs
Tools & Smart EquipmentHow John Deere’s New AI Lab Is Designing Farm Equipment for a More Sustainable Future
September 15, 2017
On a block in San Francisco’s SoMa district, near LinkedIn’s headquarters and dozens of startups, a 180-year-old company best-known for Read More
BASF Maglis grower retailer tablet
Data ManagementWhat Will Happen to My Data? Understanding Your Rights in Precision Agriculture
September 12, 2017
The use of precision agriculture-based decision making to determine fertilizer rates and hybrid types and planting rates is becoming more Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversBlue River, Deere Deal Will Accelerate Farm Robot Innovation
September 11, 2017
No, Blue River Co-founder and CEO Jorge Heraud has not been deposed — Gaddafi-style — by big, bad corporate overlord Read More
Farming at Sunset
Business ManagementAgtech Issues: The Shiny Object Syndrome
September 6, 2017
Do you remember those cartoons where someone lures someone else by placing a piece of candy, small amount of money, Read More
AgQuip overview
Australia/New ZealandAgQuip 2017 Displays New Ag Technology in Australia
August 28, 2017
The annual AgQuip field days took place in Gunnedah, NSW on August 22-24. Being the largest agricultural field days in Read More
Agri-AFC-cotton-baler
Business ManagementBringing a Southern Sensibility to Precision Agriculture
August 7, 2017
Amy Winstead considers herself blessed to have gotten in on the ground floor of precision ag adoption in the Southeast. Read More
Latest News
Farmer with iPad
Australia/New ZealandAgrian Expands into Australia
September 20, 2017
In line with a familiar growth trajectory, Agrian Inc. is moving into Australia with a physical support and sales presence Read More
Robotics Specialty Crops
EventsPrecision in Specialty Crops Gains Momentum
September 20, 2017
When John Deere acquired Blue River Technologies (BRT) recently, BRT’s See & Spray technology received plenty of play. Yet many Read More
Decision Support SoftwareSyngenta Helps Lead Efforts for Farm Management Softwar…
September 19, 2017
Ag data from tractors, combines, planters, and other farm machinery present a huge opportunity for growers to manage their operations Read More
Petra-Andren-Cicada-Innovations
Australia/New ZealandGrowLab’s Rocket Fuel for AgTech in Australia
September 19, 2017
Despite its superpower status as a producer and exporter of agricultural goods and services, up until now Australia has had Read More
CropIn-Team-Photo-credit-BW-Disrupt
AsiaCropIn Aims to be a Global Leader in AgTech Sector
September 19, 2017
Krishna Kumar created AgTech startup, CropIn Technology in 2010, along with co-founders Kunal Prasad and Chittranjan Jena. The trio went Read More
China-Beidou-Navigation-Satellite-System
AsiaChina’s Navigation System Gets Powerful Chip to I…
September 18, 2017
A new powerful chip technology has been introduced in China’s national satellite navigation system to provide high-precision positioning, according to Read More
Tablet Grower
Industry NewsFieldReveal Names Hesse New CEO
September 18, 2017
Matt Hesse has been selected as the Chief Executive Officer of FieldReveal, a newly launched joint venture formed to deliver Read More
John-Deere-labs
Tools & Smart EquipmentHow John Deere’s New AI Lab Is Designing Farm Equipment…
September 15, 2017
On a block in San Francisco’s SoMa district, near LinkedIn’s headquarters and dozens of startups, a 180-year-old company best-known for Read More
Wheat sunrise
Australia/New ZealandSparkLabs Group Launches an Agricultural Tech Accelerat…
September 15, 2017
SparkLabs Group, which claims to be the largest startup accelerator group in Asia, is stepping into agricultural tech with a Read More
Sensors/IoTCollaboration Leverages Internet of Things, Sensors in …
September 15, 2017
The vision of having license-free community sensor networks for agricultural users has made a giant leap closer to reality. A Read More
Young Corn Field
Data ManagementPurdue Online Tool to Help Farmers Make Precision Decis…
September 14, 2017
An innovative online tool developed by a Purdue University engineering professor will allow farmers to process data collected from their Read More
forbes-agtech-summit
Precision IrrigationImproving Water Management: Can Silicon Valley Help?
September 13, 2017
I recently attended the Forbes AgTech Summit in Salinas, CA, where roughly 50 start-up companies originating from Silicon Valley and Read More
Nate-Dorsey-Field-Trial-Curve-Compensation
Systems ManagementField Trial: Precision Application and Curve Compensati…
September 13, 2017
Several months ago I wrote an article about curve compensation in planters and how these systems can help create more Read More
Diamondback moth
Tools & Smart EquipmentTechAccel Invests in Unique Sprayable RNAi Pesticide Te…
September 12, 2017
TechAccel, the Kansas City-based technology and venture development company, has announced it has awarded the first grant under its “Path Read More
BASF Maglis grower retailer tablet
Data ManagementWhat Will Happen to My Data? Understanding Your Rights …
September 12, 2017
The use of precision agriculture-based decision making to determine fertilizer rates and hybrid types and planting rates is becoming more Read More
Terra
Imagery/SensingAerial Imagery Aids Decision-Making
September 12, 2017
As the growing season has progressed, aerial imagery has been part of the world record setting data-collection efforts for Terra, Read More
Hurricane-satellite-image
Decision Support SoftwareKeeping Things in Perspective: Weather vs. Climate in O…
September 12, 2017
As I write this, we are on the heels of catastrophic flooding in Houston due to Hurricane Harvey, and another Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversBlue River, Deere Deal Will Accelerate Farm Robot Innov…
September 11, 2017
No, Blue River Co-founder and CEO Jorge Heraud has not been deposed — Gaddafi-style — by big, bad corporate overlord Read More