A GROUP of WA ‘whole supply chain’ participants recently ventured to New Zealand for the International Tri-Conference for Precision Agriculture in 2017.
The event included the first Asian-Australasian Conference on Precision Pastures and Livestock Farming, the seventh Asian-Australasian Conference on Precision Agriculture and the Digital Farmer and Grower 2017 Adaptation and Adoption of Precision Agriculture conference.
Hosted by the Precision Agriculture Association of NZ, the conference was held at the Claudelands Conference and Exhibition Centre in the North Island city of Hamilton.
The six-day trip for 17 WA farmers, researchers, consultants and industry representatives was sponsored by the Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) Donor Company.
They were accompanied by a researcher and a consultant from New South Wales.
The trip involved attending the conferences and touring farms across the north island for a more hands-on and interactive experience with NZ producers.
Amelup sheep and cropping farmer Marcus Sounness said he went because it was “to good of an opportunity to give up”.
“I’ve heard that NZ was doing a good job and so I wanted to see what it was all about,” Mr Sounness said.
“It was fantastic.
“I learnt a lot and met some great farmers.
“It was well worth a week.”
Mr Sounness said he enjoyed the three days of conferences as well as “talking to farmers about their issues and the solutions they come up with”.
He said he was impressed by the technology presented at the conference but said a lot of technology and software was getting thrown at farmers and it was important to wait and assess it before “jumping in”.
“There needs to be more consultation with farmers to bridge the gap between researchers and farmers,” Mr Sounness said.
“With technology there needs to be a bit more discussion because sometimes the solutions are not that practical.”
He said the “quality of participants on the trip was also quite impressive – there were consultants, researchers and farmers – so we were learning from them as well while tripping around”.
“The highlight for me was the dryland farm irrigation tour in Palmerston North,” Mr Sounness said.
“They had about 2000 hectares in pivot irrigation and ran a beef enterprise, a dairy, lamb feedlot, broadacre cropping system as well as growing vegetables.
“It was so diverse, with managers for each different enterprise.”
Mr Sounness said it was interesting to see how they measured and analysed their data information and the performance of each enterprise.
“A big difference that I saw was that we have a lot of risk to manage – much more than them,” he said.
“Ten days without rain is a big drought for them.
“Whereas we are on the edge of a desert with less than 400 millimetres of rainfall a year.
“But they measure performance and information more than us.”
The group visited the Gallagher headquarters building in Hamilton.
The Gallagher group has been announced as a business to watch according to the TIN100 Top Companies to Watch.
New Zealand’s Technology Investment Network tracked the performance of top export-focused technology companies in NZ and this year the Gallagher team – which included the animal management, security and fuel systems business units - were ranked fifth on the index.
The ranking put Gallagher just behind Datacom, Fisher & Paykel and Xero.
The list is made up of the top companies with the highest export dollar value growth.
Revenues for the top 10 range from $154 million to $1 billion.
Gallagher employs 1000 people globally, with 120 of those employees in research and development and exports to 130 countries.
“It was an eye-opener seeing how they make stuff,” Mr Sounness said.
He said the whole industry would benefit from the experience of these few attendees.
“A lot of the farmers that went contribute to the industry so they will give feedback and there will be more projects from this,” he said.
Manjimup cattle breeder Mark Bending said he caught the last day of the conference and attended the on-farm tours – which he found very interesting.
“There was a good range of speakers, on a broad range of subjects,” Mr Bending said.
“There was lots of innovation which was interesting to listen to.”
Mr Bending said he was focused mainly on NZ’s pasture certified red meat industry.
“I went as part of a group interested in developing a pasture certified red meat industry in WA,” he said.
“It’s a process that occurs more on the East Coast.
“There are a couple of people floating the idea here.
“It’s about getting year-round supply and being able to make that whole supply chain work.”
Mr Bending said he was able to get a better handle on how the process worked in NZ.
He said to be pasture certified meant producers followed a range of protocols – feeding entirely on grass – which enabled them to have a point of difference in the market.
“There is a global trend towards this type of production,” Mr Bending said.
“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel and while it’s good to see what others are doing, we don’t have to implement everything.
“You find what is applicable to your business.”
Mr Bending said they met a range of producers, saw their practices and the technology they had developed and implemented and now could consider what might be beneficial for his business.
He has 400 Angus breeders, with 150 calves – as well as avocadoes.
He puts Black Sentinel bulls over his breeding herd.
Grower Group Alliance chairwoman Kelly Manton-Pearce said she had a lot of fun with “a great group of people on the tour” and was impressed mainly with the new technologies that would be available for producers in the future, including new satellite radar with high resolution telemetric sensors, soil moisture probes, and hyperspectral imaging.
She said there was still a lot of work to be done on improving the technology but they were showing “good results so far”.
“The highlight of the trip was seeing the new technologies – there will be a real application in terms of broadacre cropping,” Ms Manton-Pearce said.
She said the on-farm tour in Palmerston North was on a property in the “top one per cent of land in the world that would grow anything”.
“There was an abundance of water access,” Ms Manton-Pearce said.
“The soil quality was also very good, so they could grow anything, anytime.
“The experience of seeing where water equity was not an issue and what could be achieved, as well as having the management in place for it all to run smoothly was amazing.
“We are so limited by everything in comparison.
“We don’t often get the chance to visit farmers who are not.”
Ms Manton-Pearce said the farm had high chemical and fertiliser inputs to grow high risk crops “because they can”.
“They were pushing the boundaries of high risk crops,” she said.
Ms Manton-Pearce was also impressed by the “400-year strategic plan” of the Maori Trust which had formed a partnership with the farmer.
She said the goal of the trust was to buy land and keep it for the next 1000 years.
“They had a holistic view to business and investment,” Ms Manton-Pearce said.
2018 Nuffield scholar and Kendenup farmer Andrew Slade also attended the conference and said it tied in nicely with the research he would be conducting into precision livestock management – or automated broadacre livestock systems.
“The conference was very relatable,” Mr Slade said.
He said there was some “experimental PhD work that didn’t fit into ag just yet” but the possibilities were there.