Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 047 November-December 2003 - North
By DAVID ADAMS Soil properties are being mapped from the air in a national surveying program aimed at illustrating how Precision Agriculture (PA) technology can help improve crop efficiency and returns to growers. Funded by the GRDC, the national gamma- radiometric flyover is one of a number of technological measures being undertaken to help growers identify how and why crop yields vary across a paddock, in a bid to encourage greater efficiency. "It's all about knowing exactly where you are in a paddock, what those differences in yield are, why they occur, and how you can manage this variability to increase profit and sustainability," says Dr Phil Price, a consultant to the GRDC, who is helping with the project. The survey involves flying over paddocks at a height of 30 to 40 metres and taking measurements using a gamma-radiometric spectrometer. The instrument maps differences in soil characteristics, such as whether a soil is clay or sandy and hence its likely moisture-holding capacity, one of the key factors in determining crop yield. Part of a five-year, national R&D initiative aimed at testing the value of PA technologies, the flyover involves between 12 and 16 experimental sites, which stretch across the country from central Queensland and around the cropping belt to Western Australia. Farming technology company Silverfox Solutions Pty Ltd has been contracted to manage the flyover program, while the data acquisition will be handled by UTS Geophysics. Matt Adams, director of operations at Silverfox, says the spectrometer measures the natural gamma-ray emissions from the top 30 centimetres of soil and assesses the amounts of potassium, uranium and thorium, which, if analysed, can be used to determine soil types. Dr Price says that while PA technologies have been around for a long time -- many farmers, for example, already map their yields -- it has not been easy for growers to "go the next step" and find out why yields vary from one part of a paddock to another, and how this variability can be best managed. "This initiative is about putting the other bits of the jigsaw together and seeing if we can work out with the growers what's causing the variance and what are the best management options," he says. "It's one of those examples where the technology has run ahead of the application. A lot of harvesters now have yield monitors on them and so people have paddock yield maps, but they're mostly left in the drawer because growers can't easily go the next step and say: 'What's all this mean? What should I be doing differently?'." Dr Price says that PA has the potential to not only help improve a grower's fiscal bottom line but also contribute to the sustainability of the land. Results of past use of the technology in WA had shown there were parts of some paddocks that consistently yielded a negative gross margin year-after-year. By not cropping those areas, growers have been able to lift their overall paddock margins by $50 to $60 a hectare. Dr Price says the technology does require both money and time to use, but that once farmers have some of the data in place they should be able to "make some serious money out of PA". "You've only got to do the soil mapping once because things like soil texture don't change quickly over time," he says. Mr Adams says that "combined with existing soil survey information and new soil mapping techniques being developed across Australia, gamma-radiometrics stands to become a critical information layer in bringing the benefits of precision agriculture to grain growers". The GRDC PA initiative involves researchers and growers working together to see how PA technology can be applied in practice and what benefits growers can gain from it. Results will be released to the grains industry as they come in, and the initiative includes an education and training component aimed at helping advisers, agency staff and farmers to understand and use the technology to greater benefit than in the past. Page 24: PA is all about $/ha benefits GRDC RESEARCH CODE SFX00001, program 4 For more information: Matthew Adams: email@example.com RESEARCH UPDATES 14 NOVEMBER 2003 a very satisfactory experience as well," Mr Gardiner said. AFC is aggressively expanding its procurement base this season, offering Harvest Plus and Warehouse contracts to growers in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. "Over the past five years we've relied on our network of Western Australian growers to meet our export requirements, and they are still our most immediate suppliers, but increasing demand has offered us the opportunity to expand our procurement in the eastern states." Grower Directors Mr Shivnani said his longer-term aim was to make AFC a grower- owned company. "Within the next twelve months we'll be looking to appoint grower directors to the board of the company," he said. "Grower suppliers have always been the lifeblood of our business so having grower directors providing guidance to the company will better enable us to meet growers' needs and expectations in the future." Mr Shivnani said he was looking for potential directors who were entrepreneurial and forward thinking, were committed to deregulation and able to promote its benefits to fellow producers, could understand the benefits of value adding and vertical integration and were considered to be prominent growers within their district. P erth based grain marketer Australian Foods Company (AFC) is promoting the benefits of its "Harvest Plus" pools as a smarter marketing alternative for Australian growers. AFC began trading in 1998 and has quickly built a reputation as and innovative and reliable marketer of Australian grains specialising in high value export business. It has identified key markets in the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, China, South East Asia and North Asia. AFC chief executive office Pavan Shivnani said Harvest Plus is designed to maximise returns to growers by utilising AFC's marketing expertise, capability to value add, extensive network of domestic and international trading contacts and strategic alliances with millers and end users of grains. The marketer is able to take advantage of favourable price movements prevailing during the life of the pool. Harvest Plus will run for approx. 18 months, from 1 October 2003 to April 2005 and growers will be able to deliver grain from 1 October 2003 to 31 May 2004. Harvest Plus was launched in WA during the 2002-2003 season and has been well received by AFC's WA grower base. The pools have performed strongly, returning on average approximately $10/t above the equivalent cash price. Payment Mr Shivnani said he understood concerns expressed by some growers about the ability of niche marketers to deliver what they promised. "AFC is here for the long term and is financially sound," he said. WA grower Eddie Hein is happy with his dealings with AFC. "There are some grains that we just don't get good prices for at other outlets and so far it's done very well for us," said Mr Hein. Fellow WA grower Philip Gardiner agrees. "Well we had an excellent experience, this was our first year, and we felt that Australian Foods was finding new market segments internationally, and that's what we need as farmers, especially for the range of different grains we are now growing. "Another thing about the experience was that you always require a certainty of payment and that was "It will make us an even more effective competitor to the statutory marketers," said Mr Shivnani. "The positions are remunerated, offer the prospect of equity participation, and provide the opportunity to become involved in the decision making process and influencing the strategic direction of Australia's most progressive grain marketing company." Interested growers are invited to contact Mr Shivnani at AFC for more information. Growers can access further details about Australian Foods Company and Harvest Plus by visiting the company's Web site at www.australianfoods.com or by free-calling 1800 333 533. THE SMARTER MARKETING ALTERNATIVE FOR GRAIN GROWERS Prices, pool sizes, delivery cut off dates, contract terms and conditions may be subject to change without notice To find out more, visit us at: www.australianfoods.com AFC CEO Pavan Shivnani (right) wants grower directors "Significant premiums to growers can be achieved from these initiatives," said Mr Shivnani. He said other sources of premiums include foreign exchange gains through hedging and capitalising on price spikes in domestic and international markets. "A key feature of Harvest Plus is AFC's price transparency. AFC markets growers' grain for a flat 4% marketing fee with all other premiums passed on to producers." Harvest Plus is essentially a pool marketing product. Growers benefit from the engagement of a professional marketer to market their grain over an extended period, as well as from a lower 'price risk' as compared to a cash contract, with the return to the grower being 'averaged out' over the life of the Pool. Freecall 1800 333 533 today for the latest prices! Receiving grain this harvest at: • All Ausbulk sites in South Australia • All Grain Corp and ABA sites in Victoria • All Grain Corp sites in New South Wales • All Grain Co / Grain Corp sites in Queensland Australian Foods Company offers grain producers: • A competitive and transparent export marketing service • Direct access to international grain markets and end users • Price premiums through value adding initiatives • Cash, Forward, 'Harvest Plus' / 'Warehouse' Pool and 'Strike Price' contracts • An honest and long term partnership Flyover maps soil properties Blue sky knowledge: the flyover is part of a five-year initiative aimed at testing the value of PA technologies.
Ground Cover 048 February-March 2004 - North