Limestone Coast Virtual Bus Tour Hits the Road
Four Limestone Coast 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 Limestone Coast Landscape Board Grassroots Grants Program, was developed to give farmers and other interested landowners access to the stories of these farmers without having to leave home.
The farmers are Peter Balnaves, of Coonawarra, Peter Ellison, of Tarpeena, Richard and Nikki Kirkland, of Furner, and James Mann, of Wye.
Peter Balnaves is a grape grower and winemaker who also manages 480ha of vineyards under contract across the Coonawarra and Wrattonbully wine regions.
He uses precision agriculture (PA) tools and techniques to track and manage the quality of wine produced from the grapes grown on each small sub-vintage block. Remote monitoring and scheduling of irrigation ensures time-sensitive operations are completed promptly.
“A big driver in what we’ve been doing with precision ag (is) there’s got to be an end result,” he said. “It’s got to give you something and from our point of view that’s about quality and viability.”
Peter Ellison is general manager of Dowling AgriTech which produces seed potatoes and has contracts with other farmers to grow its potatoes across the southeast of South Australia and into southwestern Victoria.
He uses Use EM38 surveys to identify changes in soil type, as a guide to location of soil nutrient and disease tests and for designing variable rate irrigation (VRI) plans. Remote monitoring of irrigation provides early alerts during busy or challenging periods.
“When it’s 45 degrees outside, you can be 200km from your pivot and know that it’s still going around,” he said. “With potato crops things can go wrong very quickly, so that peace of mind is really important.”
Richard and Nikki Kirkland are prime lamb and grain producers who use careful monitoring to boost both lamb numbers and weights.
Their flock is fitted with electronic identification (EID) ear tags to collect data for monitoring individual ewes and their performance. They also measure and monitor crop and pasture growth to maximise availability of feed and grain, and prevent overgrazing.
James Mann is a dairy farmer whose business, Donovan’s Dairy, produces about 20 million litres of milk a year.
Herd data is collected twice a day and genomic testing of heifers is used to decide which are kept as replacements.
Soil testing guides fertiliser application and the Pasture.io platform, which combines satellite imagery, weather data and farming records, generates a ration calculator and predictive feed wedge to help with grazing decisions.
SPAA executive officer Nicole Dimos said government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic 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,” she 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.”
Dr Dimos 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,” she said.
As well as hosting the Limestone stories, the Virtual Bus Tour is being expanded to include ‘stops’ at farms in the Eyre Peninsula, Kangaroo Island and Murraylands/Riverland regions.
The Virtual Bus Tour can be viewed at www.spaa.com.au/virtual-bus-tour
This project is supported by the Limestone Coast Landscape Board’s Grassroots Grants program.