Data helps farm decisions

Precision agriculture refers to the use of spatial data to make informed crop management decisions, but this does not remove the need for growers or advisors to go out into the field to see what is happening on the ground.

That is according to John McPhee, Farming Systems Researcher at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA). Mr McPhee is conducting research on the adoption and application of precision agriculture, including a national project funded by Hort Innovation, using vegetable industry levies and contributions from the Australian Government, and led by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

“The project is looking at the adoption of precision systems technology in vegetable production around Australia, and TIA is leading trials in Tasmania,” Mr McPhee said.

“Satellite images were collected from five different carrot crops in Tasmania and then analysed by researchers at the University of New England’s Precision Agriculture Research Group to produce a crop vigour map using NDVI imagery.

“Based on this information, we hand-harvested crop samples from areas that were identified as low, medium and high crop vigor. The relationship between the image and sampled yield data was used to prepare a yield prediction map showing total tonnage per hectare.

“The Tasmanian trials have been conducted in collaboration with Harvest Moon, who have a carrot harvester with a built-in yield monitor. The yield data collected at harvest time will be compared to the yield prediction map to see how well the two match up”.

Mr McPhee said that reliable yield prediction would help harvest logistics and planning, which would benefit everyone in the industry – growers, contractors and packers.

“The yield map can be provided to the grower to look at low yield areas to understand why this might be occurring, and see if there are management options that can improve the yield in the next crop,” he said.

A second part of the project involves working with Tasmanian vegetable growers to increase the adoption of precision agriculture systems.

“It’s about looking at new technology or new uses of data to achieve a goal. It doesn’t have to be leading-edge technology, but it might be new for the industry or new for the state. We will be adapting technologies from other industries to use in vegetable production,” Mr McPhee said.

Four growers from the North-West Coast and Northern Midlands are currently involved in the project and have expressed a particular interest in drainage. The experiences of these growers will be used as project case studies.

“Drainage management has been around for a long time, but spatial technology now allows us to do be more precise in planning and installation, particularly for surface drainage. However, it’s important to remember that it still requires a lot of ground work, and particularly for subsurface drainage, going out in winter and getting your boots muddy is still part of the deal,” Mr McPhee said.

“One advantage of precision crop imagery technology is that it allows the grower or advisor to target what part of the paddock to look at, instead of randomly scouting crops for problems”.

Published on: 03 May 2018 2:13pm