Virtual bus tour hits the road

Virtual bus tour hits the road

Four Riverland farmers have shared their experiences of precision agriculture as part of an online roadshow produced by the Society of Precision Agriculture Australia (SPAA).

The Virtual Bus Tour, funded through the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board landscape levies, was developed to give farmers and other interested landowners access to the stories of these farmers without having to leave home.

The farmers are Jock McNeil, of Loxton-Paruna, Andrew Falting, of Nangari, Scott McKenzie, of Loxton, and Brett Rosenzweig, of Winkie.

Jock McNeil And His Canine Offsider Billie

Jock McNeil is a dryland grain grower farming 16,000 hectares with his family in the Loxton-Paruna area.

After returning to the farm in 2009, Jock embarked on a radical modernisation program, using precision agriculture (PA) tools and techniques to conserve summer rainfall, manage soil variability and reduce the cost of weed control.

If he was starting out with PA today, Jock said he would begin with controlled traffic farming (CTF) which they introduced in 2017.

“Having everything lined up in terms of machinery operating widths has enabled better input management, data interpretation and overall control and understanding of the paddocks,” he said.

Andrew Falting is part of a family partnership, Tarree Pastoral, producing pigs and broadacre grain crops.

The sows and their progeny are monitored for important metrics, including birth rate, growth rate, mothering ability and productivity. Variable rate maps help optimise fertiliser application on cropping paddocks which produce feed grain and bedding straw.

“We used to be croppers who had some pigs, now we farm pigs and do some cropping,” Andrew said.

Century Orchards Technical And Operations Manager Scott McKenzie Min

Scott McKenzie is technical and operations manager of Century Orchards, a privately-owned company with 700ha of almonds in production.

He uses PA to ensure each tree receives optimum doses of fertiliser and water throughout the season, which has increased production per megalitre by 10-15 per cent.

“By understanding our variabilities, we can manage wet areas that can kill trees with reduced output and implementing different irrigation schedules,” Scott said.

Brett Rosenzweig is a long-time winegrape grower and former Almond Board of Australia (ABA) industry development officer who harvested his first crop of almonds this year.

He uses PA to monitor soil moisture, temperature and salinity levels and guard against applying too much or too little water and fertiliser on his vines and trees.

“I became very aware of the potential for precision agriculture in horticulture from being involved in research and development at ABA,” Brett said.

SPAA president Frank D’Emden said COVID-19 restrictions had made it more difficult – and in some cases impossible – to run popular traditional in-person events such as field days and farm walks.

“We know farmers love nothing better than to visit other farms,” he said. “They enjoy seeing what’s working and what isn’t, and hearing other farmers talk about the lessons they’ve learned. The Virtual Bus Tour aims to capture some of that experience in a format that’s available to anyone with internet access at any time of day or night.”

Frank said the adoption of precision agriculture tools and technologies presented an opportunity for all farmers to make efficiency gains and savings, regardless of whether they’re involved with cropping, livestock or horticulture.

“Precision agriculture is not just about improving productivity, it also brings environmental benefits that help ensure farms remain sustainable,” he said.

As well as hosting the Riverland stories, the Virtual Bus Tour includes ‘stops’ at farms in the Eyre Peninsula, Limestone Coast and Kangaroo Island regions.

The Virtual Bus Tour can be viewed at

This project is supported by the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board with funding from the landscape levies.