BULLFINCH farmer John Nicoletti can still feel the frustration he encountered in the world before precision ag.
With an expanse of properties throughout the WA Wheatbelt, the mobile phone seemed his saviour.
But that wasn’t allowing for signal drop-outs, lack of frequent communication with farm staff and managers leading to the need for his physical presence to assist in problem-solving and management decisions during crucial periods of the season, such as at seeding and harvesting.
If he had the proverbial dollar for each kilometre travelled between his farms, he would have a healthy bank account – but then again, he would have had to deduct travelling expenses.
And you can’t put a dollar figure on stress.
Similarly, you can’t put a dollar figure on the overall benefit of employing precision ag, though John is willing to have a crack at a 10 per cent economic gain, with the bonus of a happier, less stressful life.
As dealer principal for John Deere dealership Ag Implements, John not only sells that company’s full suite of precision ag products, he uses them on his farms in the eastern Wheatbelt, where he has installed 32 RTK towers for his customers, linked to three John Deere satellites.
This provides the ability for him and his customers, to capture radio signals from a wider array of satellites, relayed to GPS receivers mounted on the roof of a tractor, header or boomsprayer.
John’s plant includes 15 John Deere 4WD or track tractors, 14 John Deere headers and eight John Deere self-propelled boomsprayers, each with 36 metre booms.
All are connected to JDLink Connect which can be downloaded by most owners of GreenStar 2600, 2630 and Generation 4 displays.
So at a moment’s notice – and where there is a good signal – John can tap on his iPhone and see the status of all his machines within a 140 kilometre radius.
“You can get real-time, so you know exactly what’s going on,” John said.
“From my perspective, I’ve got a better handle of all the operations on each farm without moving anywhere.
“And when operators are ready to knock off from a shift, it’s just a matter of idling the motor for five or 10 minutes while you download the information about the shift to the John Deere Cloud, your iPhone or home computer.
“What I can see instantly is how programs are going from hectares worked and at harvest what sort of yield we’re getting.
“There’s also plenty of information on the machine’s performance, so you can get a running tally on how much fuel it’s used and the average RPM along with mapping data, which is obviously useful when you’re assessing inputs or deciding on any soil amelioration strategies.
“Probably the biggest thing to my mind is there’s no more dead-running – making mistakes that haven’t been picked up.
“Because you’ve got instant data you know exactly what’s going on and how the operator is performing.”
John’s dealership also is associated with farm management platforms AgWorld and Granular which provide software for more detailed data analysis relating to cost benefits, third party collaborations, advising staff and contractors of farm tasks (along with GPS coordinates)and the mandatory record keeping.
It brings a whole new paradigm to farm management and all John’s farm managers use this data.
“Each farm I’ve got is its own enterprise and when you’ve got such precision data, each paddock is its own enterprise too,’’ he said.
“What surprised me analysing the maps was the amount of variance in soil types.
“We started fiddling around with basic guidance and mapping 10 years ago and it has been building up every year, so we’ve now got a good history of each farm which can be fed into these new software programs to give us a pretty accurate picture of the whole enterprise.”
John is also aware of teething problems with new technology.
“I think this is where machinery dealers will have a great role to play to help customers,” he said.
The Ag Implements dealership employs five full-time Agricultural Management Solutions (AMS) specialists, emphasising the importance John places on precision ag.
“We will continue to grow this side of the business into the future because the cost efficiencies are too great to ignore,” he said.
p This writer is acutely aware of the desire of all machinery dealers to embrace precision ag.
But it does come at a cost, whether that’s training specialists or on-farm support, including providing refresher courses to customers.
Many farmers balk at dealer charges for this service, even for software upgrades.
But if these costs are amortised over three years, the cost is returned probably 10-fold, taking into account fuel, chemical and fertiliser savings.
The pace of technology dictates these software upgrades, which are in fact, improvements for even greater cost efficiencies.
The mind boggles at what technology will be available to farmers in the next five years.