A recent SPAA (Society of Precision Agriculture Australia) workshop in Ingham highlighted some of the latest developments taking place in precision agriculture.
Cane growers from across the Wet Tropics attended the SPAA workshop where leading Australian researchers and advisors who are using and studying PA technology, showed how it can be used to improve management across many agricultural industries. Some of the topics included UAVs, weed sensors, crop sensors, variable rate equipment, EM mapping, yield monitors and software.
One of the keynote speakers was a group of French delegates for Delair, a company working with PA, drones and multispectral mapping. They are working with global players across the whole spectrum from making the equipment (for mapping and scouting), developing the appropriate software (storage of information – field inventory) to processing the information (developing the end result of PA). The technology is already being used for weeds and gap detection in the rows and crop height but it has the potential for much more.
Several growers at the event talked also about the benefits that they are experiencing from precision agriculture in their operations.
Tom Pontarelli from Giru is using PA for fertigation and soil moisture monitoring to diversify from cane into melons as a break crop. He has implemented intensive soil testing using cores to identify changes in the soil profile to depth and across the farm, and is using variable rate applied gypsum to help improve these areas and create consistency across the blocks for improved fertiliser and water efficiencies.
Brian Dore from Tully converted his nutrient management plan to a prescription application for fertiliser in sugarcane. Initially he found initially the best value for money was in improving surface drainage. With the help of external organisations he interpreted years of data to take account of seasonal influences and draw practical conclusions. He found certain areas were low over time and then had to decide whether to fix the limiting factor or reduce inputs.
Walter Giordani from the Herbert is using variable rate prescription maps for the variable application of lime/gypsum on his property. He had noticed the techniques being used were not working to rectify the issues and he was losing production due to yield decline in early ratoons. As technology advanced he decided to embrace the opportunity to find new ways to improve the productivity across his farm. With support from industry advisors and funding from a Reef Trust Repeated Tender, he has utilised intensive soil testing and purchased a variable rate spreader for ash and gypsum products so he can apply them himself and achieve more consistent yields on his 150ha property.
While all the growers were impressed with all the new technology becoming available, many still think it is out of reach for them on a commercial scale, but it is clear that future technology is really starting to move ahead in leaps and bounds.