13th Australasian Precision Agriculture Symposium Armidale NSW, September 2009

The PA symposium is recognised as the meeting point for Australasian Precision Agriculture researchers.  This year it was at the University of New England in Armidale (1000m ASL), With frost on the ground, the mornings were as chilly as home in Hawke’s Bay. 

There was a strong New Zealand presence (10) with Dan and James from LandWISE.  Ian Yule from Massey Centre for Precision Ag chaired a session.  Carolyn Hedley from Landcare Research and Ina Draganova from Massey University gave presentations.  Two others from Massey also attended.  John-Paul Praat and Canterbury farmers Craige and Jemma McKenzie, were also at the Symposium.

The Symposium had a strong research input, but also included presentations from leading farmers.  Attendance was strong with about 150 delegates. The small number of active farmers present was noted.  Speakers were recognizing need to take PA from research to practice as a mainstream activity. 

There was strong industry support for the conference.  Most technology providers had technical staff present.  James and Dan had useful time with these people building knowledge and networks and sharing information.

The Precision Agriculture Association (Southern has been removed from the title, but it is still known as SPAA) is a key member of the PA community in Australia.  They had a major presence at the Symposium.  We were interested to note that SPAA has 200 members, compared to LandWISE with 130+.  The farmers were enthusiastic and when we explained what LandWISE is, all were keen to share information and to cooperate where practical.

SPAA run training workshops and field days on precision agriculture and assist farmers to accurately setup yield monitoring, crop sensing and variable rate treatment of crops.  SPAA have shifted their focus from individual farmers to farmer groups.  In each of these they train a local Precision Ag leader to aid in regional support for extension of PA techniques.  They are well-funded by GRDC for this extension work. We made contact with past and present leaders and current administration staff.   There is an excellent SPAA website at www.spaa.com.au.

Some highlights

On Nitrogen

Yield mapping with active sensors and managing nitrogen by variable rate application are clearly being researched and adopted in Australia.   The confidence in the active sensors and the ability among farmers to use them to support their agronomy and drive variable rate practices is growing fast. 

Jim Schepers from Nebraska spoke on managing N using sensors in corn.  He describes it as being like driving an old car, you have a choke and a throttle.  Chlorophyll is the driver to production.  But he reminded us that yellowness has more causes than just N, look further before applying more N to correct it, look at soil and crop factors and their interactions.  He advocates the use of N rich strips as a visual tool but also to calibrate N sensors (of which the eye is an important one).  He spoke about sufficiency indexes to determine N applications.

He reminded us to be aware that while N is a critical tool, N excesses are difficult to detect.  N rich levels may not be good to aim for, it may be difficult to sustain the growth of the richest areas as other factors become limiting.  Too much N can limit growth and then go to waste.  Uncertainty about N is a risk to the crop and your business.  Understand it.

Remote Sensing

One speaker Leasie Felderhof, described her company’s work with unmanned aerial vehicles or drones which can now cheaply capture imaging in different bands for zonal management of crops, weed detection and other mapping.  The drone is autopiloted using GPS and follows a preprogrammed flight path to capture the required imagery.  Net landings allow for confined space operation.  It is early days but these tools are rapidly becoming viable for use in agriculture.   www.skyviewsolutions.com.au

The UNE precision Ag team has experimentally installed a crop sensor on a Fletcher Topdressing aeroplane to good effect.   It requires the plane to fly at less than 6 metres while scouting a crop, which apparently isn’t a problem.   Ag pilots in Australia are a similar breed to ours – the sensor had to be mounted behind the nose wheel to prevent it being knocked off. 

The Weedseeker is selling like hotcakes in Australia.  It is an active sensor which, when fitted across a spray boom with individual nozzle control, allows farmers to spray only as a nozzle crosses an area where weeds occur.  Some of the reported benefits of Weedseeker were incredible with system payback of less than one season for some operators, where their weed populations allow for big chemical savings. 

Trimble has purchased the company which manufactures and distributes Greenseeker and Weedseeker sensors.  The Greenseeker sensors are finding application in agronomy especially around nitrogen applications.  Australian farmers are quickly adopting technologies to allow for savings in inputs. 

Roger Mandel – Curtin University, WA

Roger was a presenter at the PA symposium and was also at the CTF Conference in Canberra.  A lecturer at Curtin University in WA, Roger focused on ‘Demystifying Precision Agriculture’.   He generously gave us his full 100 slide powerpoint to use as we see fit.  It is a useful resource and will help us develop suitable resources for LandWISE members. Roger also gave us an Excel based calculator designed to assess the economic case for adopting Precision agriculture and variable rate technologies. We think this needs to be reviewed in a New Zealand context, but it is a very useful template.

Government support for Precision agriculture research in Australia reflects recognition for it as a key response to climate change.  This was shown by the level of funding , research, extension and resultant participation.
The proceedings are available here.
http://www.usyd.edu.au/agric/acpa/symposiums/2009_proceedings.pdf (4.8MB)

A list of presentations is below:

13th Annual Symposium on Precision Agriculture in Australasia – Presentations and Workshops

Managing nitrogen with active sensors
Jim Schepers (USDA – Agricultural Research Service)

Canopy-scale detection of nitrogen in wheat using the Canopy Chlorophyll Content Index
Glenn Fitzgerald (Department of Primary Industries Victoria)

Optimising nitrogen use in cereal crops using site-specific management classes and crop reflectance sensors
James Austin (Australian Centre for Precision Agriculture, University of Sydney)

Evaluating a new proximal sensor for winegrape quality
Rob Bramley (CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems and Food Futures Flagship)

A producer perspective on the application of precision technologies
Kym I’Anson (South Australian grain and hay producer)

RTK CORS networks – the future of agricultural machine guidance
Tim Neale (FARMpos Pty Ltd)

Linking unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology with precision agriculture
Leasie Felderhof (SkyView Solutions Pty Ltd)

Measuring and mapping crop vigour using an active optical sensor in an ultra low-level aircraft
David Lamb (CRC for Spatial Information and Precision Agriculture Research Group UNE)

Precision nutrient management in China supported by remote sensing and information technology
Ke Wang (Institute of Agricultural Remote Sensing & Information Technology, Zhejiang University)

On-farm carbon and biodiversity: mechanisms and PA tools for the future
Paul Frazier (Eco Logical Australia)

Autonomous tracking and control of livestock in extensive grazing systems
David Swain (CSIRO Livestock Industries)

Water use efficiency indicators for variable rate irrigation of variable soils
Carolyn Hedley (Landcare Research, Massey University)

Ord Irrigation Area – a diversity of precision agriculture applications
Jon Medway (Terrabyte Services)

Producer perspectives of precision agriculture
Richard Heath (Grains Producer and GRDC Northern Panel member)

A survey of Western Australian farmers on the uptake of precision agriculture:problems, issues and a way forward
Roger Mandel (Curtin University of Technology)

Examining the temporal availability of feed and regional turn-off patterns of cattle in Eastern Australia
Graham Donald (CSIRO Livestock Industries)

Integration of operational constraints into management zone delineation methods
Pierre Roudier (Australian Centre for Precision Agriculture, University of Sydney)

SPAA Producer Groups update
Mark Branson (Southern Precision Agriculture Association)

GPS Livestock Tracking Workshop

GPS livestock tracking
Mark Trotter (CRC for Spatial Information and Precision Agriculture Research Group UNE)

Pasture utilisation and nutrient redistribution in intensively managed dairy system
Ina Draganova (Institute of Natural Resources, Massey University, New Zealand)

Adaptation behaviour of cattle relocated from the rangelands to a temperate agricultural grazing system
Dean Thomas (CSIRO Livestock Industries)

Sirion, the new generation in global satellite communications: livestock GPS tracking & traceback
Gill Stassen (PacRim Satellite Communications)

2 thoughts on “13th Australasian Precision Agriculture Symposium Armidale NSW, September 2009”

  1. Where would I be able to find more information on ”Linking unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology with precision agriculture”
    Leasie Felderhof (SkyView Solutions Pty Ltd).
    i.e speaker/presentation notes?

  2. This work on UAVs (drones) looks to offer plenty for Precision Ag now that it is possible to preprogram flight paths for sensing and then process and analyse images in conjunction with other layers. These aircraft can work under cloud and provide 3cm pixel resolution from 400 ft. I would contact Leasie direct through the website http://www.skyviewsolutions.com.au and request more detail.

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