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Tammin grower demonstrates benefit of peer learning

Brad Jones is keen to learn, and share with his peers, what efficiencies automation such as Vinnie the robot can bring to his cropping operations.
Photo: Sue Knights

Among his peers, Brad Jones is affectionately known as Brad ‘Zones’, a nickname that aptly acknowledges the way in which he pushes boundaries in his use of precision agriculture (PA) technology.

To achieve operational efficiencies on the large property he farms with his wife Kate at Tammin, about 180 kilometres north-east of Perth, Brad has been an early adopter of PA tools. He has done this by carefully considering purchases, with improving workflows to boost productivity always at top of mind.

Brad started using GPS and collecting yield data from his harvesters in 2000 and then adopted spatial soil mapping tools and variable-rate technology on his seeders in 2007. He has progressively incorporated more technology over the years, including weather stations across his property that integrate with soil data to better-inform his cropping decisions.

Throughout his PA journey Brad has been willing to share his learning with peers and the wider industry.

“The more we are willing to share as an industry, the better we all become at our own businesses,” Brad says.

As part of the Society of Precision Agriculture Australasia Symposium held in Perth in early September 2023, Brad opened his farm to interested delegates.

A key motivator for Brad was to put his latest purchase through her paces – referred to by her moniker ‘Vinnie’– a SwarmFarm bot which joined the farm labour force in February. SwarmFarm is an innovative Queensland business supported by GRDC’s GrainInnovate Agtech venture capital fund.

There are only four bots in Western Australia and although well-supported at the moment, we will need more support in the state as this innovative new technology is adopted more widely.

“Having access to third-party repairs and more inventory on hand will really aid their adoption.”

Putting Vinnie through her paces in front of an informed audience gave Brad the opportunity to learn more about the technology through questions from the attendees.

“When presenting at these sorts of events you may field questions that you have not thought about yourself and it may be about an issue well worth further consideration.”

Vinnie is currently being used for spray operations but Brad sees other opportunities.

“She’s becoming a herbicide resistant weed management tool. We are doing green-on-brown spray application and can use robust direct rates of herbicides targeted to problem weeds rather than broad applications. She can also work long hours.

Vinnie is basically a platform for which other technologies can be scaffolded. We are currently running a Goldacres spray unit with Bilberry technology and a Raven spray controller on her.

Interoperability is an issue, as Brad says you need to wait once you start up to ensure all the technologies are talking to each other.

Once Brad and his staff have mastered Vinnie they will consider purchasing additional bots to take the ‘swarm’ approach to operations.

“This will bring scale and efficiencies to operations. We will then also look for further applications for Vinnie such as mapping constraints, snail numbers and maybe mouse activity.

“Using PA tools is all about identifying an issue to manage and sourcing a fix. Peer-to-peer learning gives you confidence that if others are doing something, you could try it too,” he says.

Read also: PA Symposium a fertile forum for learning.

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