Wilmar Sugar Australia produces more than half of Australia’s raw sugar from the eight mills it operates across Northern Queensland.
A portion of that raw sugar is produced from approximately 6500 ha of agricultural land that the company farms.
About 3500 ha of that land is in the Burdekin, putting it in close proximity to management solutions business Vantage NEA, based in Ayr.
Vantage NEA has assisted Wilmar with its precision agricultural needs, supplying Trimble Agriculture products to boost farming efficiency and production.
Wilmar’s General Manager Agriculture Ian Davies said the company started its precision agriculture journey several years ago as part of a broader drive to reduce costs and improve productivity.
He said Wilmar’s machinery fleet was originally mixed, which is one of the reasons the company chose Trimble Agriculture as its guidance system.
“We had John Deere tractors, Caterpillar tractors, and Case tractors and harvesters. Trimble allowed us to standardise GPS guidance and data collection on one platform,” Mr Davies said.
Wilmar’s Agricultural Productivity Manager Peter Larsen said the Wilmar Farms team was now using Trimble’s precision ag products outside of the tractor cab, by taking further control of soil management.
“The Trimble technology we’ve been using has started moving us towards farming our paddocks via management zones, rather than using a one-size-fits-all style.
“Identifying zones within each paddock of the farm allows for more refined management, and that in turn will help us to increase gross margins while maintaining a good balance between high yielding cane and CCS (Commercial Cane Sugar – the sugar content of cane).”
Step one of this process was having Vantage NEA conduct soil analysis on poor performing areas of Wilmar’s furrow-irrigated Burdekin farm with Trimble’s Soil Information System.
The system is different to traditional soil testing methods as it uses multiple technologies and intelligent targeting algorithms, to determine locations within a field that are substantially different from the rest.
These points of difference can then be further investigated using a unique soil probe which, after processing, provides over 50 layers of information about the soil.
The information is used to develop maps which provide relevance and spatial context to the soil information, allowing Wilmar and its agronomists to develop variable rate (VR) input prescriptions.
Mr Larsen said Wilmar had used the SiS data to assist in making low performing areas of Wilmar’s paddocks more profitable.
“It’s certainly been of benefit to help identify soil issues,” he said.
“In some areas of the paddock, the SiS identified high sodicity areas, which allowed us to apply gypsum using VR.”
Mr Larsen said they had always applied gypsum to the paddocks using blanket rates because of the production benefits, but the VR prescription ensured they were applying enough to the areas that needed it.
“We don’t always see an overall reduction in the quantity of gypsum used on a farm, but we know we’re using the product more effectively,” he said.
“Treating high sodicity areas improves the soil structure and plant available water. Doing it more effectively has allowed us to maximise our irrigation strategy.”
Mr Larsen will be able to monitor the success of the VR prescription as well as identify crop issues with Trimble Ag’s new farm software.
The software is a cloud-based solution growers can use to track their on-farm inputs and monitor profitability across their enterprise.
It also gives growers access to regularly updated satellite imagery of their paddocks, allowing them to monitor crop health issues from the sky.
Mr Larsen has used the satellite imagery in conjunction with the soil data to review crop variability issues, allowing him to identify and assess poor performing areas. This information is then being used to make management decisions that maximise crop production and profitability.
Wilmar is also leveraging the Trimble Ag software for recording day-to-day operations.
“By doing this, we can potentially determine both the input costs and yield results of individual paddocks. This will allow us to monitor our management decisions and individual paddock profitability, while providing an easily accessible platform for reporting.”
Over time, the data recorded into the software will give Wilmar an indication of what inputs the crop needs to perform at optimal rates.
Mr Larsen said that, in the future, he hoped to have enough on-farm data recorded to be able to confidently use VR to apply other nutrients such as nitrogen.
“Understanding our soil better will influence what chemicals we use and how we use them,” he said.
The three pillars of Vantage NEA’s farm solutions – hardware, software and services – has helped Wilmar better understand the farm’s soils and crops, and make management decisions based on quality information.
Mr Larsen said Vantage NEA’s service and support had greatly assisted Wilmar on its precision ag journey.