THE future of remote work is likely to be hybrid in the wake of COVID-19.
Technically speaking - with the vast stretches of sparsely populated land in Western Australia - farmers are already working remotely.
But what if onfarm work could be done off-farm, from anywhere in Australia, at the touch of a fingertip, right in the palm of a hand?
While it may sound far-fetched to some, Perth-based Origo.farm has developed a cutting-edge, data-gathering system to help farmers monitor and control broadacre and livestock operations from afar.
Small and large scale farming operations can use the system to capture critical data on rainfall distribution and climate, remotely control water sources and fertiliser, check on outdoor livestock pens and yards and even automate feed storage bins.
Onfarm weather, tank top and control stations feed information back into a dashboard and server, which can be accessed on a phone, tablet or computer.
Merivale farmer Rodney Locke installed remote water tank monitoring systems and a weather station at his Condingup property last year.
Mr Locke runs 1800-head Angus breeders and a mixed - wheat, barley and canola - cropping program.
He started with four of Origo's tank monitors and one weather station, which he trialled over the summer months.
This year, he decided to also implement it on his home farm, at Merivale, so tank water levels could be checked in the morning, before he had even left the house.
"Previously I would get in the ute and drive out to have a look - simple as that," Mr Locke said.
"I'd go and check my troughs and find a problem.
"When it comes to the Condingup farm - it is a 130 kilometre round trip and now we don't have to do it for the sake of doing it now.
"Even checking all the water at home would probably take four hours."
Mr Locke also uses Origo's app to monitor trends - including when the stock is watering - and compares them to day-ago, week-ago and month-ago levels.
He said while water levels were expected to slightly drop at times, if there was a significant drop without recovery then it could prove costly.
"If that happens you have a problem without it developing into a bigger problem such as large numbers of cattle having no access to water," Mr Locke said.
"This kind of technology quite often identifies problems unfolding before they even become problems."
Wongan Hills broadacre farmer Robert Sewell also uses Origo's system and described it as a "game changer" - which took much of the guesswork out of farming.
For Mr Sewell it is quite simple - if you can't measure it, you can't manage it.
And he has found Origo's technology helps to do both.
Mr Sewell said such technology would allow farmers to keep control of fertiliser stocks, control of grain in silos, levels of fuel and fertiliser tanks, flow rates of water in-and-out of tanks and weather conditions.
"While we have some of the technology already installed, we are moving forward with the areas of monitoring that will assist in better farm management," Mr Sewell said.
"The technology - including weather stations - has helped me get the most out of our cropping program by providing longterm, accurate results.
"I use Origo's dashboard to compare results, such as rainfall distribution, to previous years."
Origo.farm founder and managing director Annie Brox said the company aimed to add value to agriculture by creating an easy to use, maintain and replace system.
"Farmers want to farm - they don't want to fiddle around with technology," Ms Brox said.
"That's where we step in.
"We are there for the long-term, not only to provide a system but to also provide support in ensuring it continues to work.
"A lot of people have seen the benefits of technology, but if they install it and it stops working after a while then what do they do?"
Origo has built a network of local service partners in regions across WA to help with local installation and maintenance, and is now expanding to the Eastern States.
It also offers system training to farm staff, which has proven particularly helpful for station owners.
Origo is able to monitor every device within their network and in some instances can even detect when "something has gone wrong" with the technology.
"Then we can either fix it online or organise a call out, wherever they may be," Ms Brox said.
"All of that is in a service level agreement.
"An important part of that is farmers get the software, the maintenance upgrades and the stored web data - the raw data is the farmer's property.
"We manage and help capture the data, but they own it - it is a farm asset and is going to become more-and-more of an important asset as time goes by."
Ms Brox labelled the service level agreement as "extremely important".
"Imagine this device is out there for three to four years, this data is history and then a long-term understanding as to how this paddock is performing can be built," she said.
"Or basically, you can see in your water management system how the cattle in a particular cell are moving and working."
So what has Origo found to be most important when it comes to broadacre and livestock farming in WA?
Ms Brox said weather and water management were at the top of the list.
She said Origo's weather stations could help with managing local weather variation, observing and monitoring the microclimate and environmental conditions important to farming operations.
The weather stations automatically distribute rainfall maps, after every single rainfall event on farm, and can also be used to observe wind varies, inversion and frost in valleys.
From this farmers are able to identify when the best time may be to start sowing, spraying, fertiliser application or harvesting.
Data is stored on the farm server, which provides a full history from paddocks and operations.
"When there hasn't been rainfall for 24 hours, a map is generated automatically," Ms Brox said.
"We are also developing a frost map, so farmers can see how many hours they have had frost and where."
Weather stations are set up in a grid and could be placed about 10-20 kilometres apart, depending on the terrain.
Ms Brox said one of the important examples was where Origo had helped farmers save on input, while producing top performing crops.
"One of our customers runs a on 37,000ha property of mainly sandy soil," she said.
"Here it is important to know where you have had rainfall so the plants can make use of the fertiliser.
"When we first started talking to the farm owner he installed eight of our weather stations because he wanted a distribution of the rainfall, so he could put in enough fertiliser but not more."
As for water monitoring, control and automation, Origo's technology can monitor flow in-and-out of troughs, water pipelines and sources.
The system sends alerts for tank levels and leaks and farmers are able to remotely shut off mains water supply from the palm of their hand.
It can also control valves in water pipeline systems and large storage tanks.
For station owners, it means they are able to monitor water to troughs for livestock.
"A level sensor sits on top of the tank and relays information back the phone, PC or tablet," Ms Brox said
"It shows a pattern in water volume, and flow both in and out of the tank, so farmers know when and how much livestock are drinking, and it is very easy to see if there is a leak or anything is wrong.
"They don't have to make those long round trips to make sure everything is OK, but focus on preventative maintenance and the livestock."
Other existing systems, which can be integrated with Origo's technology, include solar driven pumps, bins and silos, fuel and fertiliser tanks, electric fencing systems and engines for pumps.
More recently, Origo has been working on LiDAR sensors for water tanks and grain silos.
The new level sensors are precise and durable in moisture and condensation.
"You can imagine, for example, it is hard to measure exactly how much grain or fertiliser is in a silo," Ms Brox said.
"By pointing four LiDAR sensors at the silo, you are able to measure the exact volume.
"You are also able to measure temperature, moisture and CO2, which helps you identify exactly what is going on with your grain.
"The sensors are under testing in different environments and once they have been run for a few months they will be available."
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