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FARM SERVICES | 19 January 2010

Adoption of precision farming made easy

The latest precision farming technology may be complex, but using it doesn’t have to be. Landmark’s Precision Farming Service takes the stress out of using precision farming tools and implementing variable spray rate technology, so that instead of spending countless hours sorting through piles of data, growers can concentrate on running their business.

The Precision Farming Service uses the latest technology to build on the resources growers already have, such as years of yield data and records for seasonal conditions, paddock rotations, soil test results, herbicide and fertiliser history and local paddock knowledge. Some of the information Landmark uses in the service includes satellite and airborne imagery, elevation data, active in-season crop sensors and soil moisture probes.

To implement precision farming on a client’s property, Landmark agronomists use sophisticated, web-based software to complement what they find in the field. We process the available data, create and manipulate paddock zones and then write prescription files to best match inputs to each zones’ requirements

Landmark can prepare prescription files to suit any variable rate controller on the market. Soil and tissue testing services further enhance the package. Targeted, site-specific testing can reveal valuable information that helps ground truth the data and identify underlying reasons behind the variability between zones. It also determines the inherent nutritional status of each zone.

Landmark’s Precision Farming Service is not a set and forget process. Given yearly variations in rainfall and growing conditions, as the year progresses farmers need to adjust and readjust to the conditions, making the most up-to-date and informed decisions about a range of inputs.

The agronomy team has the ability to acquire relevant satellite or airborne imagery of a grower’s paddock, look at in-crop biomass growth patterns and combining that with other information, come up with a means to write variable rate files for in-season inputs such as nitrogen.

In addition to acquiring in-season imagery, Landmark is also using historical LANDSAT images to look for trends within paddocks that show areas consistently having higher biomass and areas consistently having lower biomass.  This tool will give confidence to growers in defining zones together with, or in the absence of data layers like yield maps. The agronomy team is evaluating a number of new methods for acquiring paddock data. These include commissioning contractors to carry out electromagnetic surveys, and the use of active crop sensors, like GreenSeeker.

The GreenSeeker measures crop biomass and greenness, also known as Normalised Differentiation Vegetative Index (NDVI). It collects data using sensors that can be mounted on a motorbike, boomspray or fertiliser spreader. That data is then used to create a map depicting low, medium and high NDVI zones.

After determining the reasons behind the variation between zones through various images and soil and tissue testing, areas of the paddock that would benefit from an early, mid or late season nitrogen topdressing can be identified. Tools like the GreenSeeker enable us to write a variable rate application for nitrogen topdressing that makes better economic sense for growers.

We are also investigating the use of permanent soil moisture probes to enable growers to make more economically sound decisions about inputs such as nitrogen fertiliser. Permanent probes continuously measure soil moisture at various soil depths in the paddock. Knowing how much moisture is in the soil and at what depth will enable better decisions about late applications of nitrogen, without relying solely on weather forecasts, which can be unreliable.

The aim is to use these technologies for better utilisation of inputs and therefore farm more profitably.

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