Australian Controlled Traffic Farming Association Conference – September 2009

Hi-Tech – Low Emissions Cropping – Economical – Energy Efficient – Environmentally Sound

Dan and James from LandWISE attended the Australian Controlled Traffic Farming Association (ACTFA) conference in Canberra.

Australian adoption of GPS

It was estimated that 4000 RTK GPS units are in operation on vegetable and arable farms in Australia.  CTF adoption is estimated at 11% of cropping farmers and is climbing. Growing local networks of CTF farmers are apparent through the presentations and workshops and in talking to farmers we met. 

Aussie Drought

CTF as a solution to many challenges in soil, water and staying in business, has acceptance among the farmers with whom we spoke.

Farmers with experience of CTF spoke in terms of gains in Water Use Efficiency and drought tolerance of their operations.  They spoke of neighbours, unable to harvest droughted crops, asserting that they were getting less rain than CTF farmers.    

One agricultural contractor only has customers that operate CTF systems.  This is a deliberate business strategy; in dry years his customers have harvestable crops and he wants the consistent work.

Dire issues with water shortages sharpen the interest of farmers in Precision Agriculture.  The large holdings and low per hectare yields reported by Australian grain farmers means small per hectare savings are significant.  Margins are tight and grain prices under downward pressure.  Any gains offered by technology are being explored and exploited. 

Water use efficiency (in kg/mm rainfall/ha.) is a common measure of gains from Controlled Traffic Farming in Australia.  Improved infiltration and soil moisture storage are important reasons to convert to CTF.  

New Zealand relevance

Our climate change predictions indicate both increased drought and extreme rain events! Fortunately the soil infiltration and water holding benefits of CTF address both these key issues. While we typically have smaller farms, their productive value is higher.  So an equivalent percentage improvement from adoption CTF would have larger dollar gains per hectare.

CORS Networks

Australia is making a massive investment in CORS (Continuously Operating Reference Stations). These are permanent GPS signal correction systems that, for an annual subscription, provide RTK correction signals for use in mining, geology, agriculture and construction.  A statewide network in Victoria is 40% towards planned full coverage.  CORS networks offer some billions of dollars in savings over the expansion of private base station networks.  Many conference attendees thought farmers would continue to invest in their own, or local cooperative networks as well so these projections may be overly optimistic.  

Who went?

The usual suppliers of GPS equipment were evident.  There was considerable presence from Precision Agriculture farmer groups (South Australian No-Till Farming Association, Southern Precision Agriculture Association, Conservation Agriculture Association of Australia and NZ, LandWISE).  Private consultants, agronomists and Universities were also well represented.  Of some 83 delegates, 16 farmers were present.  Useful contacts were made on behalf of LandWISE. 

The experience of CTF farmers was that their CTF systems are delivering savings in fuel, fertiliser and time and improved yields and water use efficiency.  Continued extension of the use of CTF is likely, with other spatial technology bringing additional benefits to farmers who are choosing to adopt other Precision Agriculture systems on their farms.

Very brief headlines of the presentations are below.  Full information should be available soon on the ACTFA website –

The Coming Famine: the risks to global food security – Julian Cribb (author of a book ‘The  Coming Famine’ to be published 2010)

Julian opened the conference by letting us know we are at crisis point. Many resources underpinning agriculture are running out.  Peak phosphorous has passed and the level of waste of nutrients in food production is huge.  He predicts major regional food crises leading to conflicts and mass refugee movements.  He sees food security as a national defence issue which suggests urgent diversion of defence spending into R&D for food production. see

CTF- The Proven Solution – Don Yule

Long time CTF proponent, Don showed how CTF is a solution to a host of resource management and productivity issues and that it offers gains in soil resilience to climate variability and social benefits.

Cropping Systems for Climate Change – Jeff Tullberg

Jeff spoke on tillage and traffic options to improve rainfall use efficiency and soil surface protection, and the green house gas balance of cropping.  He says that CTF avoids the inefficiencies inherent in current systems and is a way forward to more productive and resilient cropping.

Spatial Information Research – New Opportunities for Agriculture Communities – Phillip Collier

Spatial technologies support and promote improved farming practices and yield benefits.  The CRC (Cooperative Research Centre) for Spatial information is responsible for ‘spatially enabling Australia’. Agriculture, Natural Resources and Climate change are a focus of this CRC.

What has CTF/Zero-Till done for my farming operation? – Robert Ruwoldt, Glenvale Farms

“Farmers resist change but there is always a better way to do things”     “Soil compaction is holding the world back from going to the next level”  Robert has achieved fewer weed problems, reduced fertiliser use and better water use efficiency since converting to CTF.  “Changing your farming system is the easiest thing to do, but some people make it the hardest”

The Farming Business 1992-2009 – Hugh Ball

A total of 15,000 hectares of arable cropping land is in the family business with a further 20,000 hectares under their management.  Key to this are capable core staff, external expertise and a family advisory board. CTF is on 3 meter centres, 12 m implements and 36-48 m boom sprayers. Balls are investing heavily in farming and CTF. “Money is cheap and the world is hungry”

Rural R&D Response – Peter Reading MD GRDC

Adoption by growers comes from Awareness, Tools and Motivation, if any of these elements are missing, adoption won’t happen.  Australian Precision Ag technology transfer is funded by GRDC via packages for growers and advisers in PA.

Going Straight – A reporter’s run down the tramlines Peter Lewis ABC TV

A TV show on early CTF in 1998 captured Peter’s imagination.  He has enjoyed watching CTF evolve in Australia since then and passes on his enthusiasm for CTF as a non farmer.

A Contract Harvester Perspective on CTF – Peter Bradley

“If a farmer wants a profitable and more sustainable harvest… go for it- create your CTF system and you won’t look back”   Peter encourages his farmer clients to invest in  sustainable low emission cropping systems.

Controlled Traffic Farming System – Australian CTF standard, Industry Proposal – Kevin Platz, John Deere

Initiatives to avoid problems of mismatching equipment include development of CTF standards.  Standards being agreed among farmers and key industry players include proposals for all tractors 150-500 HP to be at 3 m wheel tracks for CTF.  Manufacturing issues are still being discussed.

Logistics and efficiency of grain harvest and transport systems Greg Butler – SANTFA

A model has been developed to assist grain farmers to reduce machine time, fuel consumption and emissions through better vehicle management.

Australian GNSS CORS networks – status, issues, challenges, future – Martin Hale

State CORS networks (on 70 km spacings) are at various stages of planning and installation and will offer sub 2 cm accuracy via GPS correction signals.  A national network (Auscope) is being implemented for science and commercial use.  Availability of correction signals to farmers, miners and the construction industry will be an additional benefits of the national network.

GNSS and Agriculture – Martin Nix, Navonix

This talk covered the national economic benefits of CORS networks vs local arrays of base stations. Benefits come from high accuracy, and using data multiple times and across multiple industries – mining construction, agriculture. Martin referred to ANZLIC and an Allen Consulting report, “The economic benefits of high resolution positioning.”

Proximal Sensor Technologies – John Rochecouste CEO CAAANZ

Identifying the ‘production issue’ is still a precursor to the deployment of technology.  Farmers have the question, “How does the information relate to what I am doing?  What do we need to research and how do we manage data?

(We are interested to meet NZ members of the Conservation Agriculture Association of Australia and New Zealand.)

Remote Sensor Technologies – Eileen Perry DPI VIC

GPS is the enabling technology that allows farmers to fully utilise sensor data.   Selecting the most suitable sensor and mounting it on the most sensible platform (tractor, plane or satellite) is critical.   Using sensor data in combination with other information (e.g. yield, soil or crop data) is key to gaining the most benefit from sensor technology.

Paul Slatter – John Deere Precision Ag specialist

Paul sees yield mapping as a key step in the Precision Agriculture data cycle.  When combined with input records of factors which influence yield, these show the rewards farmers are getting for their management decisions – varieties, dates, fertiliser etc.

Gathering Data for Variable Rate Technology is the easiest bit, doing something with it is the challenge.  Ed Cay – gps-Ag

Australian farmers are using nutrient removal maps, water use efficiency, multilayer yield trends and gross margin maps to design and justify variable rate input spending.  Ed sees that the future for variable rate technology will bring easier to use hardware and software, more use of remote data transfer, service industry growth and more industry group support.

2 thoughts on “Australian Controlled Traffic Farming Association Conference – September 2009”

  1. CTF is a great idea and more farmers need to adopt methods to decrease water consumption while enhancing surface protection of soil. Small changes can generate big differences in crop yield and quality. As the world adapts to the new standards in weather patterns, drought and extreme flooding and rainfall will become more prevalent.

  2. In NZ CTF is recognised for gains it offers in soil condition and reduced energy requirements. The water infiltration and retention message is appears to be more widely understood in Australia, but is valid in NZ also, especially in drier east coast areas. Thank you for your comment.

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