IMAG believes the next step in prescription farming will be the effective implementation of precision agriculture (PA). PA is the ability to establish the type, amount and exact location of variability within paddocks. Despite popular belief, PA can be implemented quite cheaply without the need for the latest equipment. PA DOES NOT equal guidance systems, despite the best efforts from sales people in the industry. It is one facet of a multi-layered technology.
Recent developments, particularly in the areas of GPS technology and yield mapping, has created the ability to collect information on a whole paddock basis, over a number of years, very cheaply. This information can be combined with data from sources such as EM surveys, satellite imagery and Greenseeker™ data collectors to build up a knowledge base for each paddock.
IMAG uses the data gathered from these sources and combined it with their knowledge of your paddock, so determine an effective method of ground-truthing the results. This may include a number of soil tests, an EM survey or possibly even a soil pit to examine sub-surface constraints.
Once all the information is collated, a comprehensive statistical analysis is performed to create a zone map. This information is used to determine where to apply soil ameliorants (such as lime and gypsum), which areas should receive more or less fertilizer, where paddock boundaries should be altered to better match capability and which crop types are suited to different areas.
Fertiliser rates can be altered across the paddock using conventional equipment by treating each zone separately. Alternatively, variable rate technology can be used to alter application rates “on-the-fly”. IMAG can assist growers in sorting through the myriad of new equipment on the market. Because we do not have a vested interest in the sale of any equipment, you can be assured that the advice you receive will be completely independent. James Hassall, our PA specialist, has a close association with the Australian Centre for Precision Agriculture and in fact they conduct a considerable amount of research on James’ own property (near Gilgandra, NSW). He specialises in statistical analysis and creating management zones from analysed data. IMAG’s agronomists then use this information to ground truth the data, fine tune the management zones if necessary, and make recommendations for each zone.
IMAG’s key message is to START COLLECTING YIELD MAPS NOW! Most modern headers are equipped with yield monitoring equipment and its costs nothing to collect the yield maps. If you have yield mapping capability but no GPS system, IMAG can get you up and running for as little as a few hundred dollars, NOT thousands. Do NOT rely on generic yield maps produced from yield monitoring software for making PA decisions. While they give you an accurate view of different yield zones over a paddock, the boundaries to these zones are arbitrarily assigned. You need to statistically analyse the data over a period of several years, then ground truth, to develop accurate management zones.
The future of PA is exciting and constantly changing. IMAG keeps abreast of all developments and can pass relevant information onto you INDEPENDENT of sales advice. One example is the evolution of protein monitoring equipment to complement the yield mapping technology. As well as adding another layer to mapping nitrogen removal (it is a function of protein as well as yield), considerable value can be gained from segregating grains of different protein levels (due to premiums and discount rewards). This is just one of many of the exciting new PA areas that IMAG is involved with.