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How digital ag and ‘big data’ can help growers


Digital agriculture and ‘big data’ are trending terms, but how can grain growers and agronomists use data being collected by innovative software in tractors, harvesters and spray rigs to make more informed on-farm decisions?

It’s a question being answered as part of a comprehensive research project, ‘Accelerating precision agriculture to decision agriculture’ funded by a partnership between Australia’s 15 rural research and development corporations, including the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

As part of the project the Australian Farm Institute (AFI) has been tasked with the role of investigating how agricultural businesses in the United States are collecting, transferring and analysing data to provide farmers with decision-support tools that will lift productivity and improve management.

As guest speaker at the GRDC Grains Research Updates in Gulargambone (February 27) and Dubbo (February 28) AFI research general manager Richard Heath says he will be using real life case studies to explain how digital data is providing practical benefits to US growers as part of his talk ‘Will digital ag deliver on the hype’.

“Big data has the potential to impact all agriculture so the ‘Precision to Decision’ project is a very positive collaborative effort to work through the implications for data ownership, transfer and analysis in Australia,” Mr Heath said.

“From a grower and agronomist perspective one of the most interesting elements of our AFI research will be hearing how a co-operative of US farmers are combining their digital data to calculate valuable information about things like, highest yield for variety for specific soil types and yield by fertiliser regimes.”

Mr Heath, a former GRDC northern panel member and Liverpool Plains grain grower, said most growers were familiar with, and increasingly using new technology, which automated the collection of data from monitors and sensors in farm machinery and delivered it to a cloud using wireless technology, creating an unprecedented volume and velocity of ‘big data’.

“The next step for farmers is knowing how they and their advisers can access the data collected to improve their on-farm management strategies and decisions,” Mr Heath said.

“My talk is focused on the broad, but practical application opportunities for digital agriculture in Australia and how it potentially will change our business environment.

GRDC northern panel chairman John Minogue also believes grain growers and agronomists should take the opportunity to hear how their US counterparts are taking advantage of big data driven by digital technology.

“Hearing what practical outcomes are being delivered from big data in places like the US corn belt gives us an insight into how similar set-ups might work here to improve farm productivity and profitability,” Mr Minogue said.

“I know grain growers are becoming increasingly concerned about control over how their data is being used, which is why several of these data cooperatives have emerged in the US, so how they are collecting, analysing and sharing this information potentially has implications for our industry.”

Mr Minogue said the ‘Will digital ag deliver on the hype’ presentation was one of many reasons to attend the GRDC Grains Research Updates at Dubbo and Gulargambone.

He said researchers at the updates would also be presenting the latest on herbicide resistance, new barley seed treatments, global grain consumer trends, the pros and cons of longer season varieties in central New South Wales and canola disease management.

Info for farmers: Growers and advisers attending the GRDC research updates in Dubbo and Gulargambone in February will hear how a co-operative of US farmers are combining their digital data to calculate valuable information about things like, highest yield for variety for specific soil types.

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