SPAA Staff and Committee involved in Precision Ag Training Material Development

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Nicole Dimos (SPAA EO) and Matt Nottley (SPAA committee member) have been selected as ‘Subject Matter Experts’ (SME’s) in an initiative to develop new subject matter for the redesign of the ‘Diploma of Applied Agronomy course’ for registered training organisations. The redesign of the training materials includes subjects on Precision Agriculture run by ‘Skills Impact’. Skills Impact is a not-for-profit organisation that works across Australia to benchmark learning and skills standards for industry.

Nicole Dimos says ‘Skills Impact works with experienced industry personnel to define the skills standards for their industry, revising and drafting national qualifications, skill sets and units of competency. This work is completed as part of national training package projects. Matt and I there as representatives of the precision ag industry to identify the job role or functions and what skills and knowledge is required to do a job in this career path.’

Currently there is no nationally approved qualification in agronomy. The development of a national Diploma of Applied Agronomy opens pathways towards the business and management of agricultural enterprises, as well as in the applied fields of soil management and advanced cop production. Nicole Dimos says ‘We have a particular interest in the Digital Agronomy skill set – that aims to provide the skills and knowledge required to provide digital agronomic advice and expertise on systems types, purchase and use’

The role of SME Working Group members, Nicole and Matt is to provide information and advice to Skills Impact on the required skills and knowledge, emerging industry practices and future training needs in today’s workplaces. Nicole says ‘we are aiming to ensure that much needed practical and up to date subject matter is being included in courses on precision ag; we are continually being told through SPAA that we need to have impact of tertiary training material, so this is a great opportunity to have our say’.

Stakeholder Survey will help shape SPAA’s strategic future – we want to hear from you!


SPAA is planning a strategic review in March 2020. The review will be led by Rohan Rainbow and will aim to deduce SPAA’s impact on the uptake of precision agriculture (PA) in Australia to date, and using this information combined with board input and stake holder feedback to shape the organisations direction for the future.

SPAA Frank D’Emden says ‘SPAA represents a sector of the agriculture industry (PA), that is developing and evolving at a rapid rate. It is imperative that our organisation keeps our feet on the ground whilst having our eyes on the horizon to look for new opportunities; that is why every three years our board meets to shape our direction for the future.’

SPAA now represents a number of different industries that has evolved from grains, viticulture and livestock, to sugar, horticulture and to some extent cotton. Frank says ‘it is important that we are meeting the needs of these different organisations to support the adoption of Precision Ag through our extension material and events, through this survey we plan to find out exactly what those needs are’.

If you haven’t already filled the survey out, it is available at the following link, we’d love to have your input! Anyone who participates in the survey and leaves their contact details will go in the draw to win a $200 Coles Myer gift card



Precision Viticulture Workshop to focus on savings and efficiencies


SPAA in collaboration with Riverland Wine funded by the Murray Darling Basin NRM will host a Precision Viticulture workshop with the key focus – ‘PA tools for efficiencies and savings’. SPAA Executive Officer Nicole Dimos said the workshop is a opportunity for farmers to learn about technologies that will help them make efficiency gains and savings.’

The workshop will run from 9.30-12.30 and will be held at the PIRSA Research Centre in Loxton. Lance Dickeson, John Deere will give a product update covering crop care, yield documentation and ‘preparing the site’ (precision land forming etc). Don Thorp from TracMap will speak about ‘useful field data’ on operations such as spraying, harvest and weed control. Mark Bastian from Precision Agriculture is also among the line up.

Details to RSVP are on the workshop flyer, morning tea is provided and this workshop is FREE to attend.

This project is supported by the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Natural Resource Management Board through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program and the NRM Levies.

SPAA welcomes new President and Vice President from Western Australia


SPAA held its annual AGM in Tasmania at the Launceston Symposium which saw a changing of the guard in the executive committee and a new committee member. Mark Branson formally thanked Jessica Koch, outgoing president, who has had an extremely busy and extended 2.5-year term. Jessica has remained on the committee which remains strong with a total of 16 committee members based all over the country in various sectors and roles.

Frank D’Emden, incoming president addressed the SPAA members upon his successful nomination ‘I am very excited about taking on this role, SPAA is a brilliant organisation. Our committee has great depth of varied knowledge and I look forward to seeing us continue to make an impact on the adoption of Precision Agriculture nationally as we support new industries and developments.’ Frank is based in Perth and has a wealth of experience working in as a Precision Ag Consultant for several years.

Philip Honey, Director at Environmental and Cropping Technologies, based in Albany WA has stepped up from a committee role to Vice President. Jessica Koch said ‘both Frank and Phil have been active contributors to SPAA in recent years, they bring with them a variety of skills and knowledge – most importantly they’re both very approachable and level-headed guys. We look forward to having some strong West Australian representation!’

Ian Layden has stepped down from the committee and we are grateful his representation of the horticulture sector. Julie O’Halloran has essentially stepped up to continue this role on the committee’; she is a Development Horticulturalist at the QLD Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry; we extend to her a warm welcome and look forward to her representation in precision veg.


Grain Producers Australia to create Code of Practice for Autonomous Vehicles in Grains


SPAA committee member Rohan Rainbow presented at this years SPAA Symposium as a Grain Producers Australia (GPA) representative about the next steps to commercialise autonomous machines in Australia. Sophisticated agricultural technologies have revolutionized the ag industry, and now there is a need for social adjustment; consideration needs to be given to the impact on regional communities, skills requirements and training needs before the introduction of driverless vehicles.

So what’s the process?

GPA has plans to develop a Code of Practice which will be co-funded by GPA with manufacturer investment and input from producer and industry organizations. The Code of Practice is expected to be delivered by March 1st 2020 for presentation to government and wider industry stakeholders.

Rohan Rainbow, GPA said ‘a recent study of the potential benefits of Digital Agriculture including agricultural machine automation, highlighted potential returns of $878 million for the grains industry from reduced labor costs. An additional $91 million return would come from reduced chemical use through improved targeted application using sensing and automation. However, for these benefits to be realised, commercial pathways to adoption and industry confidence in the use of autonomy technologies is required.’ Australian Agriculture needs to build confidence and trust, before machinery manufacturers can commercialise these technologies.

GPA believes agriculture must take a similar approach to the mining industry in developing the world first Code of Practice for agriculture field machine autonomy. Rohan Rainbow says ‘with widespread agricultural machine autonomy imminent in Australia, it is essential that a proactive approach is led by producers to ensure social and regulatory confidence in successful, risk managed adoption is maintained’.

The prospectus for the Code of Practice has been prepared by GPA to encourage stakeholder collaboration and investment. There is an open invitation for other field-based plant industries to participate with the aim that this also meets their needs. GPA proposes that other field-based plant industries, agricultural chemical and machine manufacturers invest into and participate in this process. GPA invites comment, feedback and written commitment to participate in the establishment of an Industry Code of Practice for Agricultural Field Machine Autonomy by 30 September 2019.


SPAA hosts successful Tasmanian Symposium


The 22nd Symposium for Precision Agriculture, a collaboration between SPAA and the University of Sydney’s PA Laboratory was held at the Tramsheds Function Centre on the 9th and 10th of September. Executive Officer Nicole Dimos said, ‘we were thrilled with the attendance of 129 delegates, given this was the first time we have held the event in Tasmania it was really positive to see so many new delegates.’

The program began with the AGM, which saw Western Australian Frank D’Emden step into role of President, replacing farmer and consultant Jessica Koch from SA. Phillip Honey, consultant from Esperance filled the role of Vice President. Ian Layden, DAF stepped down from the committee, with Julie O’Halloran providing a strong replacement as she has a strong horticultural background.

Brett Whelan, from the PA Lab once again did a terrific job at collating a program covering many facets of precision agriculture. Michael Nichols, local grower from Sisters Creek presented on how he uses NDVI for prescription fertiliser inputs, and how his attention to detail resulted in him achieving Australia’s wheat growing record of 13t/ha off 16.6ha. SAGIT sponsored speaker Joe Cook, Keith SA spoke about his experience using moisture probes and EM38 soil layers to strategically manage irrigation in his Lucerne Seed enterprise.

There were some excellent scientific presentations from many of Australia’s university and research institutions. A strong theme in crop sensor and satellite imagery technology emerged, with excellent presentations from Dr Rob Bramley (CSIRO) about the Future Farm Project,  Yield forecasting of root crops with a multispectral satellite sensor in Australia by Angelica Suarez (UNE PARG), and the use of satellite imagery for mapping pasture biomass in real-time by Iffat Ara (TIA).

Once again, the event was backed by a record number of sponsors, many of whom had trade exhibits. Landmark Echelon this year sponsored the famous ‘PA Connections’ which dove tailed nicely into the conference dinner on Monday night. At the completion of the conference, 35 delegates headed off on a bus tour to Cressy, organised by AgLogic’s Rueben Wells, visiting two impressive mixed enterprises employing land levelling and drainage PA techniques.

GRDC backs SPAA Symposium, a win for innovations in grains


The Grains Research Development Corporation (GRDC) have invested funds in SPAA’s 2019 Precision Ag Symposium in Launceston, Tasmania.

Jessica Koch, SPAA president says ‘the grains industry has been leading the way in PA research and development. The grains industry in all its facets, has always been a core part of the SPAA following. Through the funding from GRDC, our aim is to continue to support the extension of innovative technologies in grains by putting leading growers using the tech on the stage, whilst at the same time allowing researchers and product developers to rub shoulders with the growers.’

This years Symposium will be no exception, featuring over 20 presentations, showcasing a range of PA technologies including a presentation from SA grain grower Joe Cook, Keith. Andre Colaco, a researcher on the GRDC funded ‘Future Farm’ project will present on ‘an approach to sensor-based N decisions: updates from the first year of field trials. We look forward to hearing the findings to date, which have involved data collection from the properties of some of the grain-growing committee members, Branson Farms and Breezy Hill Ag.

‘I believe the talks from Swarm Farm Robotics, and Rohan Rainbows update on establishing of a code of practice for agricultural field machine autonomy will interest the grain growers in the room, as the autonomy concept has the potential to transform management practices for those in broadacre ag’.

This year, we have two representatives from GRDC attending the Symposium in Launceston, Tasmania Grower Relations Manager Randall Wilksch, and Manager for Transformational Technologies, Liam Ryan – please make yourselves known to them!

Hort Innovation tour group about to embark! ‘Vegetable growers undertake PA pilgrimage’


A tour group, comprising of leading vegetable growers from Qld, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia will undertake a four-day tour visiting precision vegetable destinations of interest. Organised and facilitated by Celia van Sprang and Julie O’Halloran from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the tour is an initiative of a strategic levy investment under the Hort Innovation Vegetable Fund. Designed to encourage the adoption of precision agriculture, the tour will increase networks in the industry by exposing some of the leading growers in the field to technology demonstrations and other innovative growers.

The tour begins on Thursday 5th, heading to Thorndon Park Produce and P’Petual Tomatoes north of Adelaide. This will include a presentation by Dr Rohan Kimber of PRISA/SARDI on iMaps PESTS Sentinel for monitoring pest incursions. On Friday the group will head to Melbourne where they will visit Boomaroo Nursery and Fresh Select. Saturday will see a visit to tech enthusiast’s Will Bignell before departing for Launceston. Sunday will include a visit to Greenvale Pastoral and Armidale Stud, both of which have implemented different aspects of precision agriculture into their vegetable and cropping systems. The group will squeeze in one last farm visit to Harvest Moon – one of Tasmania’s largest vegetable growing, packing, marketing and exporting businesses, on the Monday morning prior to commencement of the SPAA symposium.

On Monday and Tuesday afternoon, the vegetable tour cohort will join with other PA delegates to attend the SPAA Symposium – a fitting finish with this year’s event headlining some key vegetable topics and growers. Andrew Johanson (Mulgowie Farming Company), and Troy Cairns-Walker (Phantom Produce) tour delegates and leading growers, will speak on their experiences will PA in their respective businesses, covering reduced tillage practices and variable-rate fertiliser application and their experiences in PA implementation.

President Jessica Koch says ‘we are thrilled the tour and the symposium could intertwine, horticulture is a key development area for SPAA, and the fit for the Symposium being in Tasmania has been a purposeful decision. We hope the tour attendees, and all delegates come away with new networks from the collaboration’.

SAGIT Funding brings South Australian Precision Ag leaders to Tassie Conference


SPAA was fortunate to gain SAGIT funding, which allowed us to bring Joe Cook, from Keith in South Australia to the stage at our 2019 Symposium in Launceston.

Joe’s chosen topic is ‘soil moisture monitoring and prescription irrigation for growing Lucerne in sandy soils’. Joe and his family run a business with irrigated and dryland Lucerne as the main pillar, including 300ha of seed production, which is around 50 per cent of the business. They also grow about 400ha of wheat, barley, lentils, canola and oaten hay and run 1450 Merino ewes joined to Poll Dorset rams to produce crossbred lambs.

The farm sits in a 450mm rainfall zone with soil that is generally sandy over a limestone and clay base.

Joe manages a multi-faceted business and therefore chooses to use a consulting company to help him manage his water and soil moisture ag tech and data. Joe will be giving us a firsthand look at why PA works for him, and why he chooses to outsource some of the work.

We thank the South Australian Grains Industry Trust for making it possible to allow Joe to speak about his experience in Tasmania.

Supporting Next Generation Ag – Adelaide Uni Growing the Future event


SPAA was thrilled to once again be part of the Growing the Future #GTF event organised by the Adelaide University Ag Students Association on the 15th August with 240 attendees. Robin Schaefer, SPAA committee member, and Bill Burgess attended the event held in the Ian McLaughlin Room, Adelaide Oval and manned our trade exhibit.

The event has fast become a popular ‘must attend’ for industry reps to mix with graduates and enthusiastic young people looking to launch a career in agriculture. The format began with two workshops, this year with topics covering ‘identifying five issues in agriculture and overcoming them’ and ‘starting your own business in agriculture – what skills are needed?’.

Over the evening meal, two panels with industry representatives covered two different questions – ‘do we need to improve the education about how food and fibre are produced, and how can we achieve this?’, and ‘what does the use of new technologies mean for the entire industry and how competitive Australian agriculture is moving forward in to the future?’. Robin Schaefer was part of the second panel and discussed some of the trends seen through SPAA, in particular rapidly moving progression in horticulture technology and livestock technology.

SPAA had the job of ‘wrapping up’ the evening, and Bill encouraged the graduate to challenge their thinking about agriculture and what opportunities may be presented to them in the next ten years, and of course to consider Precision Agriculture as an exciting field to work in.