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
Amazone-Amaspot
Australia/New ZealandAmazone Set to Release Weed-Detecting Sprayer in Australia
January 2, 2018
European farm machinery giant Amazone is set to release its UX trailed weed-detecting sprayer in Australia, which it says can Read More
Farmers-on-tablet
Australia/New ZealandAg Data Management: Success Starts with a Common Platform
December 21, 2017
As the outside temperature regularly reads over 40 degrees Celsius, Australian cotton growers have again reached one of the busiest Read More
Monash-University
Australia/New ZealandNew Ag-Tech Facility in Melbourne to Explore Use of AI, Robotics, Sensors in Farming
November 27, 2017
Monash University is establishing an ag-tech facility in Melbourne’s southeast with the vision to innovate new smart farming techniques including Read More
Kokoda-Trek2
Australia/New ZealandPrecision Agriculture in Papua New Guinea
November 2, 2017
I recently spent two weeks in the Central Highlands area of Papua New Guinea (PNG) on the Kokoda Track. The Read More
Trending Articles
John-Deere-Cab-GPS
Data ManagementPrecision Ag Hardware and Software: A Little Off-Season Maintenance Goes A Long Way
January 11, 2018
All service technicians have heard this line. Most often when spring makes its anticipated return to our lives. It is Read More
Anez-Consulting-Paul-Anez-and-Michael-Dunn
Service ProvidersAnez Consulting: Focus On Fertility
January 9, 2018
Central Minnesota features variability aplenty when it comes to soil characteristics and topography, from flat, black expanses rich in organic Read More
Agrishow2017
Americas5 Best Ag Tech Shows in Brazil
January 8, 2018
Brazil continues to demonstrate its potential in agriculture. Several international companies are investing in our country because we have a Read More
Farmer and computer
Service ProvidersPrecision Agriculture Writers Wanted To Join Our Team in 2018
December 10, 2017
About The Opportunity: PrecisionAg.com is looking for people to join our team in 2018 and submit original content to our Read More
Harvested-Corn-Field-Clouds
Data ManagementWeather Services Advance Precision Agriculture
December 4, 2017
Some estimates suggest over half of growers’ activities are impacted by weather conditions, from field workability to fertility management to harvest Read More
Wheat-an-oats-Daniel-X-ONeil
Data ManagementWill Open-Source Finally Unlock Ag Technology’s Potential?
November 28, 2017
To Aaron Ault’s eyes, ag technology right now is something like a walled garden — not unlike the Microsoft of Read More
Latest News
Data ManagementBlockchain: Making Data Cleaner, More Secure
January 16, 2018
Probably most professionals who deal with business data have at least heard the term “blockchain” bantered about as potentially the Read More
Soybean-field-clouds-Photo-courtesy-of-Earl-R-Shumaker
Data ManagementBetting on Rain? The Accuracy and Reliability of Precip…
January 16, 2018
For you sports junkies out there, if I could prove to you that I can correctly predict winners and losers Read More
center-pivot-irrigation-drop-sprinklers-on-corn
Precision IrrigationFinding Your Precision Ag Mindset
January 15, 2018
A precision mindset is the most important requirement for successful precision ag technology adoption. One of my first VRI (variable Read More
Drone-and-operator-Photo-courtesy-of-Kray-Technologies
DronesCrop Protection Application by Drone: A Q&A with Kr…
January 15, 2018
January is a busy month for agricultural companies. It’s a month that strong sales can set the mood for the Read More
Data ManagementAgGateway Grain Traceability Proof-of-Concept Seeks Ind…
January 15, 2018
AgGateway’s Precision Agriculture and Grain & Feed councils have issued a call for participation for a proof-of-concept initiative in AgGateway’s Read More
John-Deere-Cab-GPS
Data ManagementPrecision Ag Hardware and Software: A Little Off-Season…
January 11, 2018
All service technicians have heard this line. Most often when spring makes its anticipated return to our lives. It is Read More
Corn-Planter
Grower Services & SolutionsCorn Planter: The Train of Consequences
January 11, 2018
It’s always planter season in our shop but now that harvest is done the corn planter is the next piece Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversSmart Ag Announces Driverless Tractor Automation Platfo…
January 11, 2018
An Iowa technology company has unlocked the tremendous potential for automation in agriculture by developing the first cloud-based platform for Read More
Anez-Consulting-Paul-Anez-and-Michael-Dunn
Service ProvidersAnez Consulting: Focus On Fertility
January 9, 2018
Central Minnesota features variability aplenty when it comes to soil characteristics and topography, from flat, black expanses rich in organic Read More
Agrible
Grower Services & SolutionsAgrible to Launch Retailer Services in 2018
January 9, 2018
It’s a new year, which means new market challenges. Full service retailers are searching for ways to differentiate themselves and Read More
jeremy-speaking
Grower Services & SolutionsGrower and Precision Ag Services: Opportunities Lost
January 9, 2018
I often spend time with growers, talking about their operations, and the processes they go through each season to do Read More
Winters-Farming-farm-manager-Alex-Bergwerff-and-Ranch-Systems-marketing-and-business-development-manager-Hylon-Kaufmann
Precision IrrigationInside California Irrigation: Winters Farming
January 9, 2018
As many of us already know, almonds tend to get a bad rap for their water-use efficiency — or some Read More
Sentera software
DronesSentera Offering Elevation Data Mapping Via AgVault
January 9, 2018
Sentera announces the availability of elevation maps within the Sentera AgVault platform, offering agronomists, crop consultants, and growers additional field Read More
Industry NewsRaven, South Dakota State University Link Up: What You …
January 9, 2018
On Tuesday afternoon Raven and South Dakota State University (SDSU) held a press conference on the SDSU campus in Sioux Read More
Agrishow2017
Americas5 Best Ag Tech Shows in Brazil
January 8, 2018
Brazil continues to demonstrate its potential in agriculture. Several international companies are investing in our country because we have a Read More
Aarav-Unmanned-Systems-team
Asia12 Indian Agritech Startups to Watch Out For in 2018
January 3, 2018
Farming is a profession of hope. And India holds the record for the second-largest agricultural land in the world, with Read More
Amazone-Amaspot
Australia/New ZealandAmazone Set to Release Weed-Detecting Sprayer in Austra…
January 2, 2018
European farm machinery giant Amazone is set to release its UX trailed weed-detecting sprayer in Australia, which it says can Read More
drone-wheat-field
DronesAgricultural Drones: From Detection to Diagnosis
January 2, 2018
There is not a remote sensing platform that is innately better at all things: satellites, manned aircraft, and unmanned aerial Read More