Number crunching helps on-farm decisions

06 Oct, 2018 04:00 AM
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Curtin University's Shiv Meka (left), Ryan Loxton and Elham Mardaneh were a part of the award-winning team behind the development of a new harvest management analysis tool recognised at the 2018 Curtinnovation awards.
Curtin University's Shiv Meka (left), Ryan Loxton and Elham Mardaneh were a part of the award-winning team behind the development of a new harvest management analysis tool recognised at the 2018 Curtinnovation awards.

RESEARCHERS behind a new harvest management analysis tool have been named as winners of one of Curtin University’s most coveted prizes at the 2018 Curtinnovation awards.

Professor Ryan Loxton and his academic team from Curtin University were recipients of this year’s business and law award for their project with WA company Global Grain Handling Solutions.

The software tool was developed over seven months last year and uses mathematical modelling to access financial outcomes of various on-farm decisions made throughout the harvest period.

Global Grain Handling Solutions managing director Luke Gamble said his company got in touch with Mr Loxton’s team to assess the value of decision-making scenarios at harvest.

Mr Gamble said the tool allowed growers to input more than 60 variables – such as weather conditions, crop types, commodity prices, machinery and transport availability – to explore their most economical harvest options.

“For a farmer it’s actually a really good decision-making tool to look at how they could change their operations and what true affect it has on total supply chain cost,” Mr Gamble said.

“It takes into account turnaround times of vehicles, opening hours at CBH, distances and all of those sorts of things and it basically spits out what the additional profitability for the farm is – total value and then in dollars per tonne.

“A farmer can look at it and say ‘if I bought another header and I got the crop off quicker, would that actually quantify to additional profitability, or if I invested in another truck and reduced turnaround times, what effect does that have on my farms profitability?’”

Mr Loxton, an applied mathematician, said although the software dealt with a range of complex variables, its straightforward spreadsheet design allowed growers to easily utilise the tool and predict the outcomes of their decisions.

By using the computer programming and mathematical expertise of university researchers in combination with Mr Gamble’s agricultural knowledge, Mr Loxton said the final product was something that could bring substantive positive outcomes to growers.

“The joint project was to analyse the different activities that farmers would be doing over harvest – taking grain, blending grain, sending it to different locations – and we encapsulated all of that in to a mathematical model,” Mr Loxton said.

“The key is that there’s a lot of intangible and tangible benefits associated with the decisions that growers will make and it’s hard for a person to weigh those variables up in their head and come up with an objective scientific analysis of what the optimal strategy is and that’s what we’ve tried to do with this.

“We’ve ended up with a software tool where farmers can input their information and then the software will make a prediction.”

Mr Loxton said there was plenty of potential for the technology within the agriculture sector.

He said he was honoured the software’s real-life application to industry had been recognised and looked forward to seeing where the technology could go.

“It’s really only in its infancy so now we’re looking at applying for other grants and more long-term funding and hopefully continue the collaboration,” Mr Loxton said.

“We focused on developing the algorithm so that can be run on anything but at the moment the interface is just on a normal PC, but it could be programmed onto an app if we want it to do that.

“I’ve done a lot of work prior in oil and gas and mining, but I’ve never worked in the agriculture sector before so it has been good because there are a lot of opportunities.”

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