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Scholar eyes latest data technology to optimise grain production

Nuffield Scholar, Andrew Sargent, is exploring the potential of farm sensors and the internet of things (IoT) to improve the profitability of cropping systems.
Photo: Tabitha Runkel

South Australian grower Andrew Sargent will be exploring sensor technologies for his 2019 GRDC-sponsored Nuffield Scholarship.

Andrew, from Crystal Brook near Port Pirie, will investigate how farm sensors and the internet of things (IoT) can improve the efficiency and profitability of cropping and mixed farming enterprises.

A fifth-generation farmer with an eye on the future, Andrew runs a continuous cropping enterprise with his parents, Malcolm and Jane. The farm produces wheat, barley, lentils, canola and oaten hay on 2000 hectares of owned and leased land.

The area receives 300 millimetres of growing-season rainfall from a 400mm annual rainfall.

Water use efficiency drives everything here, Andrew says.

So Im keen to explore additional opportunities for sensor technology to further assist with crop management.

I think theres a lot of interest from Australian farmers in sensor technology, but were lacking the knowledge and confidence to implement it successfully on-farm. - South Australian grower Andrew Sargent

Andrew has explored internet and sensor connectivity through 3G but, frustrated with the cost, he has explored alternatives and created his own Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN) to connect on-farm sensors to a computer.

By way of sensors, Ive got bits and pieces everywhere at the moment, he says.

"We have a weather station and soil moisture probes, even on the front lawn.

"Theres the temperature inversion sensor that measures temperature at different heights in the paddock and theres even a tracker in my ute.

The open-ended question Andrew now faces is how best to implement the technology for a cropping operation to optimally inform decision-making.

The sensor system has potential and it motivated me to apply for a Nuffield Scholarship to explore what other people around the world are doing in this area, he says.

"I think theres a lot of interest from Australian farmers in sensor technology, but were lacking the knowledge and confidence to implement it successfully on-farm.

The first Nuffield-sponsored trip has already involved travel to the Netherlands to explore agriculture-related IoT roll-out and attend The Things Conference, the worlds largest LoRaWAN developer meeting.

This conference addresses the real-world problems encountered by IoT developers and is also attended by developers of products for the LoRaWAN network.

The Things Conference was a good opportunity to catch up with the thought leaders and product developers when they were together in one place, he says.

"It gave me a good idea of what is coming.

Andrew is travelling again during March and April with the full cohort of Nuffield scholars, starting with a conference in Iowa, in the USA, for two weeks followed by the Global Focus Program for six weeks. This entails visits to Washington DC, California, Argentina, Chile, Italy and the UK.

The information gathered will then inform the design of an eight-week personal travel program, starting at the end of June, taking in Europe and the US.

Ultimately, Im hoping to provide insights that farmers can use to make better observations, collect accurate data, understand how best to interpret that data and use it to inform decision-making, Andrew says.

More information: Andrew Sargent,

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