Precision ag offers whole farm solution

Second generation cane farmer, Talbot Cox and his family have never shied away from investing in technology to better their production, with many considering them pioneers of ag tech in the cane industry.

Their ongoing adoption of precision ag technology has been facilitated by farm management solutions company, Vantage NEA, formerly BMS LaserSat.

Lew Brandon and Kevin Muspratt co-founded Vantage NEA in 1979 and immediately started working with the Cox family.

In conjunction with multiple family businesses, Talbot runs “Rocks Farming Company” (RFC), approximately 3000 hectares of irrigated sugar cane production based in the Burdekin, North Queensland.

For Talbot, the more informed he is about issues on farm, the easier he finds it to make good management decisions to improve production.

To stay informed, he said he has continued to adopt precision agriculture methods into his farming practice, which has always been an essential part of his family’s business.

Since Vantage NEA’s inception, the Coxes have used Vantage’s solutions extensively, starting with the use of Spectra lasers for land levelling and have transitioned to using the Trimble GPS Field Level II to maintain irrigation flow across their fields.

Fifteen years ago, two of the first Trimble Agriculture auto steer systems in Australia went into tractors at RFC, installed by Vantage NEA technicians.

Since then, the Coxes have initiated a strict, controlled traffic regime across their farm.

With their fleet equipped with a mixture of FMX and the updated, TMX 2050 displays, all of the Coxes’ fields the row spacings are 1.6 metres and one kilometre long.

Talbot said the auto steer has allowed them to minimise compaction in their paddocks, but also prevent crop damage from implements.

Every harvester that cuts the Coxes’ cane has a yield monitor, developed by Vantage NEA,

The yield monitor uses Trimble’s GPS position and remote logging capabilities to reference a location against feedback from a sensor, installed onto a harvester that distinguishes heavy cutting conditions verse light cutting conditions.

The information from the yield monitor is then referenced with the mill records, giving an accurate representation of yield variation within each block.

Talbot said this has allowed him to identify the low performing areas within his blocks and make informed management decisions on how to improve them.

“Low performing areas of the farm reduce profitability,” he said.

“We’re looking at trying to have every hectare of the farm producing to a maximum.”

Using data from the yield monitors, Talbot was able to identify low yielding areas and with soil testing, found he had high sodicity levels.

He used the yield monitor data to develop a variable rate prescription for gypsum to spread across the paddock, applying a higher tonnage to areas with high sodicity.

“It hasn’t necessarily meant I’ve used less gypsum, but it’s ensured I’m putting the targeted amount on areas that require more, which makes it economically viable” he said.

To further understand any soil issues prohibiting maximum yield production, Talbot has started to use Vantage NEA’s unique soil analysis process, the Soil Information System (SiS).

SIS is unlike any other soil analysis solution on the market. The system uses multiple technologies and intelligent targeting algorithms, to determine locations within a field that are substantially different to the rest of the field’s soil.

These points are then further investigated with a unique Soil Probe, and undisturbed soil cores are collected to a depth of 1200mm and sent to a chemistry lab for analysis.

The post processed soil maps created from the SiS results provide spatial context and relevance to soil information.

Talbot said the soil analysis has been another layer of information that he can compare with his yield monitor data, further informing him of any soil issues in the paddock.

Using precision agriculture has been a continual evolution for Talbot, who has continued to explore ways to become more informed on his management decisions.

Talbot said Vantage NEA had always been on the leading edge of farm technology and have been very supportive with helping to make his cane production more efficient.

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