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Growers share variable rate technology insights

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Progressive Western Australian grain growers are working with rapidly changing technology and an overview of the approaches being taken by some of them is contained in a new case study booklet.

GRDC Western Regional Grower Services manager Roger States said Variable Rate Technology: Maximising returns for Western Australian grain producers showcased some of the tactics used by growers to increase productivity and profitability using VRT.

“The publication is an initiative of the GRDC Regional Cropping Solutions Networks (RCSN) in the Geraldton and Esperance port zones and was produced by the South East Premium Wheat Growers Association (SEPWA),” he said.

“It features growers based mostly in these two zones and showcases their approaches to VRT, which involves developing a management strategy to target inputs rather than applying them as a blanket rate at paddock scale.

“Comments from four experienced consultants working in the field, as well as links to further information, are included in the booklet.”

vrt-technologyMr States said precision agriculture (PA) using VRT was seen by some WA growers as an obvious and ongoing gradual progression in refining their farm management programs.

“But others are either daunted by the new technology or cannot see the benefits outweighing the cost of purchasing new machinery or equipment,” he said.

“Other causes for reticence include paying for expertise and technical support, difficulty in understanding the technology, and the amount of time needed to learn and implement it.”

Mr States said the publication highlighted the range of approaches and uses for VRT and the varying level of complexity of systems implemented by growers.

“The booklet highlights that the use of VRT does not have to be complex and that growers can start slowly when adopting this technology,” he said.

“Two main paths are chosen by WA growers adopting VRT– some undertake less complex tasks such as applying variable rates of inputs and others rely on consultants to oversee their systems which manage multiple inputs using a raft of technologies.”

Mr States said in addition to the case studies, other recent projects addressing VRT included research near Dowerin in 2015, supported by the Kwinana West RCSN group, that found using a range of soil mapping and information layers for VRT application in seasons typical of that year could potentially:

  • save $14-$18.50/ha in input costs
  • increase grain yields worth $18-$24/ha
  • boost profits by about $38/ha.

The Kwinana West project, coordinated by the Kondinin Group, highlighted that if growers already had good quality historical yield and soil data, they might not need to incur the initial costs of doing EM and Gamma radiometrics surveys to reap the rewards of VRT adoption for crop zones.

But it found undertaking these surveys might be highly valuable to start setting up zones for VRT—particularly for soil amelioration—if growers did not have a significant depth of reliable information and paddock knowledge.

A separate, but related, VRT project supported by the Geraldton port zone RCSN and led by Precision SoilTech, found the best bet for setting up high quality maps of soil variation was to have as much soil test data as possible, along with yield maps, biomass imagery, satellite imagery, or farmer identified soil zones.

Variable Rate Technology: Maximising returns for Western Australian grain producers is available on the GRDC and RCSN websites.

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