Working smarter key to profitability

27 Oct, 2004 10:00 PM
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MT BEAUMONT farmer Phil Longmire has returned from a six-week world study tour related to precision farming with a familiar message for WA farmers.

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

³Basically if you can¹t measure it, you can¹t manage it,² 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.

³With such an analysis I¹ll be in a far better position to make necessary changes to improve crop yields,² he said.

While WA¹s 2004 Nuffield Scholar picked up several interesting ideas related to his study topic, he confirmed there¹s no magic answers emerging in world agriculture to combat farmers¹ declining terms of trade.

Speaking in Perth last week at a meeting of the Australian Nuffield Farming Scholars Association, Phil said the basic message remained to work smarter, not harder.

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

³We¹ll 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,² he said.

³Then the rest of the N program can be done by foliar application as the season dictates.²

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

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.

³If you cut the crop higher, you could sow into the inter-rows the following year and gain moisture advantages,² he said. ³And I¹m told disease incidence is less in the higher stubble.²

He also was shown data relating to potassium response to wheat crops in low rainfall years when crops are 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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