XAG Agricultural Drone Trial Showing Impressive Early Signs for Application in Broadacre Cropping

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Matt Notley, SPAA committee member and Precision Ag Lecturer at Tocal College in NSW is part of an exciting project this season trialling the latest in agricultural drone technology. Matt is the right man for the project, having developed and implemented multiple courses for Tocal College including the Precision Agronomy skills set, Certificate 4 Cropping and Technology units, and the Certificate 3 Precision Agriculture unit.

Matt was approached by the owner of an XAG UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) P30 Agricultural drone earlier in the year; they had acquired NLP Smart Farms funding and were wanting to do some paddock trials with their drone. The drone had previously been used for spraying in the mining industry by the operator and the company was keen to uncover it is potential in agriculture in Australia. With an impressive list of features lending itself to efficient crop production, Matt began the trial planning!

About the XAG P30 Agricultural

The model of the drone is an XAG UAS P30 Agricultural, it has several features that lend itself to an application in Australian broadacre production. Intelligent Rotary Atomisation Spraying System (XAG® iRASS) enables precise flow rate and drift reduction through an easily adjusted droplet control.

With high flight speed and greater spraying flow, the operation speed of the Agricultural UAS can reach up to 14ha/hr. Matt said ‘when spreading with the drone, it was applying at a speed of 28km/hr when spreading, and 8km/hr spraying. The drone is capable of covering up to 6-7 hectares per hour per drone which is impressive’.  The application of product works by a system of interchangeable canisters which can hold up to 16L of product and can be ‘clipped on and off’ as required.

To further enhance efficiency of application – one person can operate up to five XAG UASs at the same time in a swarming type scenario. The Agricultural UAS is equipped with a fully autonomous operation mode. By pre-setting basic flight parameters, the drone can apply a variable application as programmed, or can navigate to hot spots of weeds etc. ‘Exclusion zones can also be programmed into the flight path’ said Matt. It has an RTK, centimetre accurate flight control system to achieve precise navigation at centimeter-level and a 360-degree omnidirectional radar perception system and can automatically avoid potential obstacles.

To learn more about the drone visit: https://www.xagaustralia.com.au/2020p30, 2020

 

About the trial

The trial location is at Tocal College in the Hunter Valley. The aim is to grow a sorghum crop, sprayed, sown and spread with regular agricultural equipment in some trial strips, and then trial strips sprayed sown and spread on the same days with the drone technology.

Soil tests were taken at the trial site in September and the first comparative procedure was a spray knockdown/pre-emergent spray on the 28th of September. On the 29th the field was sown with SSS Pioneer® sorghum. There are a number of other applications planned for the trial including a top dress fertiliser application

The 2nd generation Smart Liquid Tank is connected with a UAS via Bluetooth to display a real time amount of remaining fluid, accurately calculating the flow without a flow meter.

 

What’s next?

Matt has been impressed with the ease of use and functions useful to broadacre agriculture so far. ‘The exciting part about this project is the fact that already, we can see the potential for implementation in the field’ says Matt ‘The fact that there is absolutely no contact with a standing crop would be a huge advantage to using a drone in the later stages of crop development for applying products like fungicides or late fertiliser application’. The crop is only just emerging but will continue to be monitored in the coming months.

We look forward to bringing you and update on the project early next year when the differences between the drone trial strips and the regular tractor application will be compared.

 

 

‘Conversations with Farmers’ publication launched at SAGIT Forum

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The Annual South Australian Grains Industry Trust (SAGIT) Forum was held on 23rd September. The event marked the official launch of the ‘Conversations with Farmers’ booklet, produced by SPAA and Ag Communicators, with funding from SAGIT. Despite the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic has presented this year (delaying the event from July to September), it was exciting that the event could still be held face to face at the Wayville Showgrounds just like previous years.

Ten years ago, SPAA produced a publication where ten South Australian producers were featured, profiling them as pioneers in the grains industry and early adopters of precision agriculture (PA) technology. SPAA was delighted to have three of the ten farmers featured in the original SPAA produced document and the new document at the SAGIT Forum for the launch.

Mr Mark Branson, of Branson farms in Stockport SA, is one of the farmers who was featured in an original SPAA publication 10 year ago. Mark, who is also a SPAA committee member, formally launched the publication on the day. He says, ‘It’s great to be recognised as an industry leader with my PA journey, and was a pleasure to be able to officially launch the publication ten years on, alongside two other featured farmers – Brendon Johns from Wandearah and Allan Buckley from Waikerie.’  Mark reported back to the committee and was thrilled with the questions and feedback from the floor after he presented the final publication, he said ‘the response was overwhelmingly positive’.

Dr Nicole Dimos, SPAA Executive Officer, said “Conversations with Farmers” was an idea based on feedback that growers like to learn what other growers are doing”. “Popularity demonstrated a need to learn about PA tools and technologies through shared experiences. SPAA revisited The production of case studies is envisaged to lead to new knowledge, provide on-going producer support and highlights the importance of PA tools as part of their business whilst creating a network for farmers to work together and share knowledge.

“We hope this booklet and case studies bring confidence to grain producers and everyone enjoys revisiting these farmers who have helped shaped SPAA. It’s undoubtedly a valuable resource to your farm library and demonstrates that SPAA is an important conduit for the grains industry to learn about farm technology and innovations and to get other producers thinking about the possibilities available to them” said Nicole.

SPAA event to wind up Precision Veg Project

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SPAA, in collaboration with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries will host a ‘Getting Started with Precision Veg’ event in Gatton, South East QLD on February the 5th. Julie O’Halloran, newly elected SPAA committee member and Senior Horticulturalist involved in the project says ‘we are anticipating a positive response to the event, there are many growers looking for information on how to get started with PA technology in vegetable production as this is still a relatively new space’.

The Hort Innovation funded Precision Vegetable project is currently winding up after three years. Led by QLD DAF, the project has involved a variety of project partners, with a key purpose to demonstrate the ‘how’ in Precision Veg adoption through a variety of grower case studies, a literature review and a variety of field tours. Julie says ‘precision technology adoption in the veg industry is still relatively new, this project has been designed to showcase some of the successful case studies out there to hopefully accelerate adoption’.

The event, to be held at the Gatton Research Centre, will have an outdoor demonstration time slot from 2pm, followed by a number of technical presentations, then winding up with a BBQ tea. Frank D’Emden, SPAA president says ‘like all SPAA events, we encourage networking between interested growers and the PA professionals present both from a commercial and advisory perspective. This event essentially ties together key learnings from the Precision Veg project and we hope growers leave feeling more confident in how they may be able to use PA technology in their vegetable enterprises’.

This event is FREE to attend

Preliminary Flyer attached

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’.

Precision Viticulture Workshop to focus on savings and efficiencies

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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

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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

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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

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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.

SPAA Factsheet features in The Weekly Times February Crop Gear magazine

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Did you see the article in the February issue of The Weekly Times Crop Gear magazine about Weed Sensing Technology? Did you want to learn more about this, download our factsheet now filled with a list of benefits and case studies!

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