Grains Research and Development

Date: 01.11.2005

GRDC - Ground Cover Issue 58 Precision Agriculture Supplement Contents

Cover of Ground Cover Issue 58 Precision Agriculture supplement - October/November 2005

The term Precision Agriculture (PA) means different things to different people. PA is really about using information to help us better match crop agronomy to the production potential of different parts of a paddock or farm; the older term "site-specific crop management" perhaps explains it better.

Until early in the 20th century it was common for croppers to apply site-specific management, based on their own knowledge of within-paddock variation. Mechanisation changed all that; it brought huge gains in productivity and profit - without it, broadacre cropping might not exist today - but it has also meant large areas are now treated as uniform when in fact they are not.

As Australian graingrowers have devised better ways to grow crops more efficiently and to manage erosion, nutrition, disease, weeds, pests and seasonal variability, variations within paddocks have become a more-important determinant of profit and sustainability. This "spatial variability" may reflect differences in soil type and depth, elevation, compaction or salinity or other restrictions to root growth, weed or disease burden - or the legacies of past management. Whatever the causes, there are good examples of growers using PA to lift profit by $10 to $50 per hectare.

The basic tools of PA have been available to Australian graingrowers for more than a decade, but uptake has been slow. In response to this, and to the growing interest by growers in PA, the GRDC established in 2002-03 a National Precision Agriculture Initiative (SIP09).

This aims to further develop practical PA methods for use by Australian growers, evaluating and demonstrating those methods in different cropping regions and systems, and providing education and training information about the practical use of PA. it comprises 10 projects where growers and researchers are working closely together to make the promise of PA a reality.

For more information: Phil Price, consultant to GRDC Agronomy, Soils and Environment Program, 02 6251 4669, mackellarcg@bigpond.com