Precision ag: hasten slowly

23 Feb, 2005 10:00 PM
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ENTRY into precision farming technology should be done at a measured pace according to Mt Beaumont, Esperance farmer and Nuffield Scholar Phil Longmire.

Speaking at last week's Nuffield Farming Beyond Tomorrow seminar, Mr Longmire said the technology still raised more questions than answers.

There was danger that precision farming systems were subtlety being promoted as a template.

"You have to question whether there is enough background information to say that precision farming is the way to go," he said.

"We have data but not a lot of analytical data."

His first step was to buy analysis software from the US.

Mr Longmire, who was involved in a six week Nuffield world study tour last year said there was no doubt that WA was one of the fastest growing areas in the world in adopting precision farming for broadacre cropping.

This mainly related to scale of operation where farmers sought to make percentage gains in productivity to reduce input costs.

But what he has picked up is that the emphasis should be more on using inputs correctly, integrated with available precision farming GPS software technology.

"Basically if you can't measure it you can't manage it," he said, referring to more accurately assessing paddock performances.

What he has learnt on his study tour has encouraged him to reassess all his paddock data (8500ha with a 4000ha cropping program) and establish data sets (overlaying specific data on paddock yield maps) to better define problems on poorer performing paddocks.

"With such an analysis I'll be in a far better position to make necessary changes to improve crop yields," he said.

While WA's 2004 Nuffield Scholar picked up several interesting ideas, related to his study topic, he confirmed there's no magic answers emerging in world agriculture to combat farmers' declining terms of trade.

One of the changes he will make on his farm next year relates to using liquid fertilisers.

"We'll be looking at placing a stream of liquid by the seed containing N,P,K and whatever amount of trace elements are required and banding about 50pc of N in granular form," he said.

"Then the rest of the N program can be done by foliar application as the season dictates."

Phil said this method also may be of more benefit for variable rate application at seeding because he has found it is a lot easier to vary granular product than liquid, although in future years that may be overcome with direct injection systems.

But he was cautious about variable rate.

"With so many soil types, what do you vary," he said.

Phil also will assess some interesting observations and data he picked up during his study tour.

For example, he said stubble management was the forgotten part of precision farming.

"If you cut the crop higher, you could sow into the inter-rows the following year and gain moisture advantages," he said.

"And I'm told disease incidence is less in the higher stubble."

He also was shown data relating to potassium response to wheat crops in low rainfall years when crops were under stress.

Other interesting observations included an electrostatic spraying system for coating seed, a Greenseeker real time plant analysis system, a so-called IPAC system to allow an operator to call up the latest grain prices on the cab monitor to assist in decision-making and a plant analysis system involving cutting the whole plant and freezing it, then analysing the sap.

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