Agriculture's new world of remote sensing

Agriculture's new world of remote sensing

Agribusiness
Tammin farmer Brad Jones and his daughter Nina (5) new technology is setting up new farming systems for future generations.

Tammin farmer Brad Jones and his daughter Nina (5) new technology is setting up new farming systems for future generations.

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JUST like the Byrds' hit tune, for everything, there is a season.

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JUST like the Byrds' hit tune, for everything, there is a season.

In the case of farming, it's more accurate to paraphrase - for every task there is a window of opportunity.

Whether it's spraying, spreading, seeding, harvesting, cutting and baling hay or deep ripping, the objective is to get the job done in optimum conditions.

This is why farmers always answer a question on particular aspects of machinery performance as, "depends on the conditions".

But for farm management decisions, it's not so much about conditions as data.

For Tammin farmer Brad Jones, Bungulla, having real-time data generated every 15 minutes from 16 weather stations strategically positioned throughout the farm to the home server, puts him in a "more comfortable and confident position" to optimise productivity with the availability of real-time data.

His farm wireless network was designed by Western Australian-based technical service provider Origo Farm Pty Ltd, which has manufactured agriculture technology system to provide real-time data monitoring, data analysis and automatic map generation.

It employs a 900 Megahertz (MHz) public frequency available from the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) and Telstra's Internet of Things (IoT) 5G service which was launched in May this year.

According to Telstra, the HTC 5G Hub is the world's first 5G/4GX media hotspot, designed to be a portable, ultra-fast travel router that allows you to share or stream content on-the-go.

Each weather station is designed with sensors spaced at six metres, three metres and ground level, measuring rainfall, temperature, solar radiation, relative humidity, wind speed and direction. In the foreground is the Origo-designed rain gauge which is connected to the weather station.

Each weather station is designed with sensors spaced at six metres, three metres and ground level, measuring rainfall, temperature, solar radiation, relative humidity, wind speed and direction. In the foreground is the Origo-designed rain gauge which is connected to the weather station.

It boasts an all-day battery life and is able to support up to 20 Wi-Fi enabled devices and a gigabit Ethernet connection.

"We use both systems at Bungulla and in this case, the 900MHz is our back-up in case we have coverage difficulties with Telstra," said Origo founder and managing director Annie Brox.

"So it gives the farm 24/7 coverage and all data is sent to the main server every 15 minutes."

Essentially it works through Origo-manufactured devices that pick up signals from weather stations and moisture probes to automatically generate moisture maps, aggregate data on temperature, relative humidity, rainfall and Delta T conditions (for spraying), along with an app for remote access to the data.

The latter tool showed its importance when Mr Jones and his wife Kate were visiting Ukraine last month.

"I was monitoring the weather station information and was able to check temperatures and wind conditions," Mr Jones said.

"It showed us we were OK with the low temperatures not hanging around long enough to destroy our crops.

"If the reverse had applied, I could have immediately rung my farm manager and made a decision to start cutting the affected crops for hay.

"Without that ability to monitor the weather stations it would have been too late to cut affected crops by the time we got back home."

Bungulla is one of many farm operations in WA which has signed up with Origo Farm, including five of the State's biggest grain producers.

The company also has designed a remote monitoring system for Murchison House station, Kalbarri.

According to Ms Brox, the company also custom-designs farm systems to suit appropriate environments.

"We work with farmers to determine the best positions for weather stations and we also have moisture probes in dominant soil types because different soil types have different moisture-holding capacities," Ms Brox said.

 Origo founder Annie Brox shows how the Origo-designed rain gauge operates at a weather station operates on the Bungulla, Tammin, property.

Origo founder Annie Brox shows how the Origo-designed rain gauge operates at a weather station operates on the Bungulla, Tammin, property.

"The probes tell us where the moisture is aggregating and where it's not and we can interface that data with information from the weather stations to generate moisture maps that are current but also that can be expanded by inputting historical data and satellite biomass maps.

"All this is done in conjunction with ground-truthing."

Each weather station monitors weather at three intervals - six metres high, three metres and ground level - measuring rainfall, temperature, solar radiation, relative humidity, wind speed and direction.

On Bungulla, weather stations are sited five to 10 kilometres apart, with repeaters, to provide an over-lapping radius

The Origo app enables remote monitoring of the data, including wind and Delta T conditions, to expedite spraying decisions.

Inversion layers are easily identifiable from the regular data feed.

"With such a bank of data, maps are created automatically in our central server at home, at a statistical confidence level, meaning you can trust the data," Mr Jones said.

The system proved its worth this year.

A total of 27 millimetres of rainfall recorded in April allowed Mr Jones to get his canola in and up with some barley.

"We started the program (11,000ha) in fallow paddocks which had been deep ripped, knowing the plants could get to the moisture from the data we got from the moisture probes," he said.

"Then we got 67mm in June which enabled to get our main program in."

Despite the drying conditions throughout late July and August and into September, Mr Jones said he had remained "relatively calm".

"We knew from the moisture maps we had enough moisture to finish a crop," he said.

"It's the unknown that creates stress.

"We knew the crops weren't going to be great, but we would harvest something.

"We're definitely more in touch with our overall cost inputs now, because some of the guess work is taken out.

"Staff have the same app on their phones, which arms everyone with the same information to put us all on the same page, which in turn creates efficiencies.

 Water tanks on Murchison House Station, Kalbarri, are remotely monitored, eliminating a three times weekly 350 kilometre weekly drive to check tanks levels.

Water tanks on Murchison House Station, Kalbarri, are remotely monitored, eliminating a three times weekly 350 kilometre weekly drive to check tanks levels.

"There're more eyes on managing the downsides so we can capitalise on the opportunities that present themselves."

One of the interesting aspects of data collected from the weather stations was the realisation that optimum Delta T conditions for spraying occurred at night, specifically more towards midnight.

It has prompted Mr Jones to lease a SwarmBot, which he will link to a boomsprayer, "so the bot can do the spraying when conditions are right, anytime of the day or night".

According to Ms Brox, all Origo componentry is made in WA and custom-designed for agriculture, mainly cropping and livestock at this stage.

The company's entry into the livestock industry came via a phone call from Murchison House station, Kalbarri, owners Calum and Belinda Carruth, after the pair read about Origo installing full broadband connectivity across a 6500ha farm at Mingenew.

Last year Meat and Livestock Australia began supporting the Murchison House station project, matching Federal government research and development funding.

Its goal is to develop a reliable remote location, whole-of-farm connectivity solution that can be rolled out across other remote properties.

The connectivity solutions developed by Origo include a 'phase one' with remote monitoring and control of all tank flow meters and level switches.

Now, instead of a 350 kilometre drive three times a week to check the troughs and tanks, Mr Carruth receives an alert on his phone if there is a problem.

Phase two is now underway and will select, install and evaluate suitable IoT devices using IoT Mesh network, Wi-Fi, 3G and satellite connectivity methods to control cameras and gates at water points so stock movement can be monitored, especially before mustering.

Phase three will assess remote control for irrigation, sluice gates and centre pivots.

"With this technology, it sets up a very exciting future for the whole agricultural industry," Ms Brox said.

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