The 2021 rise in urea prices caused costs to hit $1320 a tonne, creating serious challenges for cereal producers. In response, GRDC invested in a new project, ‘Precision fertiliser decisions in a tight economic climate’. The project was led by the Society of Precision Agriculture Australia (SPAA).
Input costs make up a significant portion of a grower’s budget, and price fluctuations can profoundly affect the bottom line. This project recognised the urgent need to provide growers and agronomists with strategies, such as variable-rate technology (VRT), and tools to manage input costs.
VRT accommodates differences in soil type, nutrient levels and other factors to enable growers to make more-informed decisions about their use of available resources.
This more-targeted approach can save money, reduce environmental impact and improve crop performance.
Urea prices have retreated from their previous highs. However, farming practices that reduce even moderate input costs will see an improved bottom line.
SPAA members, growers and agronomists from across Australia voiced their concerns about soaring fertiliser prices through a GRDC-supported survey conducted by SPAA’s ‘Hands-on Precision Agriculture Training’ (HOPAT) project in 2020-21.
The survey showed that 55.4 per cent of the respondents were keen to use precision agriculture (PA) techniques but needed guidance on reducing fertiliser usage while maintaining crop yields.
The knowledge gaps identified by growers at the HOPAT workshops have informed the objectives of the current fertiliser project.
For the latest round of investment, SPAA engaged PA specialists from around the country to deliver a series of VRT workshops. These were designed in partnership with local grower groups. The grower groups were also vital in connecting the project team with other growers willing to share their experiences with on-farm experimentation, VRT and PA practices.
Grower groups involved in this process included Southern Farming Systems, Upper North Farming Systems, MacKillop Farm Management Group, AgriWest, Merredin and Districts Farm Improvement Group and Broomehill Cropping. Their participation and collaboration have been instrumental in ensuring the workshops addressed local concerns and circumstances.
The project kicked off in June 2022 as an education program designed to give growers the knowledge and confidence to adopt VRT and PA methods. It has delivered several outcomes, including face-to-face workshops, a national webinar, fact sheets, articles and grower profiles.
The final milestone was the release in December 2022 of the third edition of SPAA’s manual, PA in Practice, a practical guide to PA tools and techniques.
PA in Practice helps growers navigate high-input-cost seasons, gain expertise in ground-truthing PA data, implement strategies successfully and evaluate results accurately.
Several key lessons emerged from the project, particularly the power of peer-to-peer learning. For example, during one of the workshops in WA, local grower Mick Caughey demonstrated how to create a prescription map in real time.
It was knowledge exchange between growers and showed how there can be much more confidence when adopting technology that other local growers have implemented.
A video of the GRDC and SPAA National VRT webinar, 11 May 2023 is available for viewing online.
The project has also created resources available online, including:
- Proximal soil sensing systems factsheet
- Improving nitrogen decisions with crop sensing factsheet
- Satellite-based remote sensing for PA factsheet.
More information: Angelique McAvoy, [email protected]