A satellite imagery program developed for Elders aims to offer graingrowers better insights into their paddocks, including improved frost damage detection, and help them make more informed on-farm management decisions.
Elders Loxton senior agronomist Brian Lynch gave graingrowers an insight into the "world-first" technology, which he had been a part of developing with chartered engineer Moira Smith from Digital Content Analysis Technology Ltd (D-CAT), at a recent GRDC Grains Research Update in Loxton.
In particular, they talked about the ability of the program to identify frost patches within days of a frost event.
"AgIntel is a subscription service developed for Elders by D-CAT out of the United Kingdom, which provides regular field monitoring using satellite imagery," Mr Lynch said.
"Elders has spent the past few years helping to develop the program with D-CAT in a few game-changing areas, including frost detection and variable rate applications, which can be ordered on an as-needs basis."
Mr Lynch said D-CAT's physicists, engineers and mathematicians applied advanced processing to satellite data to create algorithms that better highlighted not only green biomass, but brown patches, stress spots, and other paddock issues.
"It tracks changes over time, can monitor crop growth for harvest and yield predictions, and even detect areas of stress within your paddock, such as frost damage," he said.
"A subscriber can contact their agronomist and say 'I've had a frost, can you run the filter over (a certain part of) my property?' The service then provides a personalised frost damage map.
"Of course, farmers will still want to go out and check their crops, but this will give a more accurate idea of severity in some areas.
"Croppers can then use that map to make decisions, whether they export the map to a hay contractor or let the paddock go to grain."
This program helps them to make a really quick assessment of what is out there and a more accurate depiction of what the entire losses will be, and across a larger area.- BRIAN LYNCH
Mr Lynch says the information turn-around process is swift, enabling croppers to make those decisions more quickly than before.
"In the Mallee, farmers don't necessarily have the infrastructure, shedding, equipment to go and cut a heap of hay," he said.
"This program helps them to make a really quick assessment of what is out there and a more accurate depiction of what the entire losses will be, and across a larger area.
"So if a farmer knows they have lost 70 per cent of the yield in a paddock, they can then decide if they should consider cutting it for hay and how to market it, or whether to put sheep on it."
Another unique aspect of the technology was its ability to predict yields.
"The service runs an algorithm over a paddock and it provides a yield prediction in about September/October," Mr Lynch said.
"From our ground-truthing, the yield predictions have been within 10pc of the harvested tonnes."
But Mr Lynch said the "world-first" with the technology was that farmers could create variable rate maps from the comprehensive satellite imagery for precision ag input applications.
"If you had a paddock that you may have missed yield data on, and you wanted to PA that paddock going in this year, you can go back, grab a biomass map and create a map of yield zones from that and then upload it into your PA machinery," he said.
"We have worked with many types of machinery to make sure the technology can be exported into their systems.
"The custom-built technology can also differentiate between a top of a sandhill and the bottom of a rocky flat, areas both with minimum yields, but ones you may want to treat differently when it comes to inputs the next season.
"If you ran that with yield data alone, it would treat those areas the same, but this program can differentiate those areas. It can override some decisions that were often barriers in the past.
"It enables more flexibility - one of the key reasons why we designed it."
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Another benefit of the program was its ability to provide historical paddock data.
"One of the big things often holding precision ag back is not being able to get the data to talk to one another or often there can be a variety of operators using on-farm technology differently or not at all," Mr Lynch said.
"This program allows you to go back and re-evaluate biomass maps, create an input map from that information then export it into your machine and use it to sow the following year's crop."
Mr Lynch said Elders had spent the past few years ground-truthing and calibrating the program on more than 100 farms "spanning from Esperance in WA to the SA Mallee to Albury in NSW".
"We wanted to make sure it worked on-farm before we went to market, plus training has taken time because of COVID," he said.
"But the technology is now ready and commercially available."
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