17 August, 2022

Leveraging geospatial technology to help WA grains farmers experiment and increase crop yield

Grain farmers and agronomists can be their own in-field scientists thanks to a new tool developed by NGIS as part of a three-year research collaboration.

Western Australian farmers, researchers and technologists have developed a process for grower-driven experimentation, supported by robust statistical analysis through the OFE platform.

“Farmers are constantly testing, trialling, hypothesising and calculating risk of different management practices,” said project leader Dr Julia Easton, a research fellow at the Centre for Crop and Disease Management at Curtin University.

“The OFE Platform gives them the scientific and analytical tools to conduct an experiment on a small plot understand the results and then apply them across a larger paddock-scale.”

NGIS Executive Director Nathan Eaton added, “The OFE platform leverages next generation cloud geospatial technology to effectively analyse field trials that incorporate the underlying variability in paddock productivity.”

More than 35 farmers and six grower groups participated in the Food Agility CRC project, running 50 experiments testing the application of fertilisers and the impact on yield.

Mick Caughey, who farms at Merredin in Western Australia’s central wheatbelt, has been using Variable Rate Technology (VRT) for more than eight years. This project has provided him with the opportunity to make data-driven decisions.

“The project allowed us to look at the optimum fertiliser rate over three seasons on crop yields on five different soil types,” Mr Caughey said. “The data analysis across the paddock found there was real potential to increase the yield on historically lower-performing soil types. I was able to change my management on those soil types and it paid off.

“It’s really good to do on-farm trials, but to measure them and apply the results over a larger scale so you can make proper financial decisions, is very important.”
A key part of the research is the spatial analytics method known as geographically weighted regression (GWR).

“Previously, when we conducted a trial on one plot, it was difficult to understand if we could apply the results to other parts of the farm,” Dr Easton said.

“GWR analysis, developed by Fiona Evans from Murdoch University, helps determine whether the variation in yield across the paddock is influenced by the treatment or by spatial variability.
“It also allows farmers to estimate the return on investment of a treatment, providing an economic rationale for changing management.”

The next stage of the project will be to develop the analytics capability, refine the platform and make it more widely available via NGIS. 

This project was partnership between Food Agility CRC, Curtin University, Western Australian Government through the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation (DJTSI) and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) as well as NGIS Australia. 

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