Grains Research and Development

Date: 18.01.2013

Online crop data to help direct industry support

Author: Catherine Norwood
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Queensland researchers have developed a new system for identifying land use by crop type that could take the guesswork out of crop forecasts – and industry resourcing – at regional, state and national levels.

Essentially, the system, called Paddock Watch, taps into the source of the crops – the growers. The internet-based program aims to use on-farm data to generate more accurate seasonal crop production forecasts, and document long-term cropping trends across farms, regions and the nation.

The crop data is also expected to help government bodies better match resources, such as research investment or agricultural extension staff, with the needs of agricultural communities.

Side-by-side paddocks that are contrasting wheat and green colours

A new internet-based program aims to use on-farm
data to generate more accurate seasonal crop
production forecasts that could help industry-support
agencies better direct resources.

 PHOTO: Paul Jones

Senior scientist with the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) Al Doherty says production forecasts have become crucial to the decision-making processes in many Australian agricultural businesses and government agencies during the past decade.

Production estimates have traditionally been based on estimates from agronomists and other agricultural specialists from discussions with growers and their observation of the areas planted to crops as they travel through regional areas. These estimates are correlated with seed sales and the use of satellite images. Mr Doherty anticipates that with the support of growers, Paddock Watch could provide much more accurate information about what crops have been planted, and where.

“Paddock Watch offers a much greater level of objectivity and transparency in crop information, which is especially important in a progressively deregulated and competitive Australian cropping market.”

After registering (at www.cropdesign.net/paddockwatch) growers can use a Google Maps interface to map their paddocks, and add basic information about a crop type and its flowering date.

Paddock Watch crop categories so far include sorghum, cotton, mungbeans, maize, soybeans, sunflowers, lucerne, peanuts, faba beans, wheat, barley, chickpeas, canola, oats and ‘other’. Mr Doherty says more crops will be added as the program is developed.

Growers enter their data directly into the automated predictive program. Computer simulation and satellite imagery are then used to map crop production estimates at a regional scale.

“The new system allows us to forecast where, when and how much of crops such as sorghum or wheat are likely to be produced. We can begin forecasting soon after planting, and these estimates will become more accurate as the season progresses,” Mr Doherty says.

Advanced knowledge of the likely crop size and its geographical distribution during a season can help with strategic decisions, such as forward buying or selling grain ahead of harvest. It could also help to more accurately assess the likely impact of climate variability within seasons, and from season to season.

“Producers and agronomists will be able to track crop activity on their farms and eventually they will be able to analyse specific crops planted on their farm and region over time,” Mr Doherty says.

“This will give agronomists and extension officers a valuable insight into cropping trends in their regions and help them develop strategies that best support farmers.”

Paddock Watch is the result of a joint initiative between Queensland DAFF and the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI).

QAAFI research fellow Dr Andries Potgieter says the industry has become increasingly competitive, which has made accurate and transparent crop production information imperative.

“We will use the data to generate monthly crop reports, risk analyses and crop forecasts to support industry decisions,” Dr Potgieter says.

“All registered users will receive this monthly crop outlook via email.”

More information:

Al Doherty,
07 4688 1566,
alastair.doherty@daff.qld.gov.au

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