Western Vic farmer gaining pasture smarts

Western Victorian dairy farmer gaining pasture smarts

Feed Management
PASTURE RESEARCH: Peter Musson is keen to see the outcome of pasture research being trialled on his farm at Macarthur, Vic.

PASTURE RESEARCH: Peter Musson is keen to see the outcome of pasture research being trialled on his farm at Macarthur, Vic.

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Having satellites and drones survey his permanent pastures does not phase dairy farmer Peter Musson of MacArthur, Western Victoria.

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Having satellites and drones survey his permanent pastures does not phase dairy farmer Peter Musson of MacArthur, Western Victoria.

His 809-hectare property is one of six dairy farms participating in DairyFeedbase and Dairy Australia's Pasture Smarts project, which is developing tools for the automated assessment of pasture dry matter yield, its nutritive characteristics, and pasture performance forecasting.

The project is part of the larger DairyFeedbase program, which draws on leading research and technologies to improve pasture performance, animal nutrition and business profitability.

Farmers are currently piloting technologies ranging from radar and multi-spectral devices, sensors on drones and vehicles, and satellite mapping. Farmers are also providing input into the design of a Pasture Smarts app, which will be trialled in April 2020.

Mr Musson said Dairy Australia had installed sensors in his paddocks and was interpreting drone and satellite data with the aim of estimating the volume of dry matter there.

He said he volunteered for the project because he wanted to help researchers gain realistic and practical insights from his working farm.

"I'm happy to take part in the research... If they can produce an app that helps me determine how much feed I have available, and in what areas, then it will certainly help me to make decisions on where to move my herd," he said.

"If you can fully feed your cows and not waste any feed, you're going to save money."

Mr Musson said the technology did not come cheap, but Dairy Australia and DairyFeedbase were working to provide affordable solutions to farmers.

"The satellite imaging is the cheapest but the downside is it's not as accurate or consistent as other technology," he said.

"It can be affected by how often the satellite can pass over and poor weather conditions. The sensor on the drone appears to be more accurate because of its proximity to the land.

"Dairy Australia is also trialling the sensors on the quad bike which you drive over the paddocks yourself. I'd like to see how the sensors go on a tractor so you can measure while fertilising the paddocks and save time."

Of all the technologies, Mr Musson said he would consider investing in a drone because of its multiple potential applications, but he would first investigate the cost of employing a drone pilot with the appropriate licences and approvals.

Dairy Australia's director major innovations and DairyFeedbase co-director Kevin Argyle said the project partners were developing a commercial model that would deliver affordable optimal sensing technology to farmers.

Mr Argyle said Dairy Australia was collaborating with a variety of public and private sector partners in Australia and overseas, unlocking funding and resources that would otherwise not be available for individual dairy farmers.

Just 10 per cent of Australian dairy farmers are estimated to measure their pasture, Mr Argyle added, which was a statistic that the Pasture Smarts project aimed to improve.

"We know there is a correlation between innovation and improved profitability. Farms are very complex, biodiverse systems and farmers are time-poor, so we want to simplify the process and prove that technology can help, not hinder," he said.

Mr Musson said the long-term benefits of the Pasture Smarts project were significant and urged farmers to embrace the technology to increase their efficiency and productivity.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm 20 years too early when you learn about what technology is coming and the applications for my farm," he said.

"I can see in future that the app would connect with virtual fencing and robotics. We could see a time when moving cows is done remotely.

"That being said, farmers will still be needed. You still need people to interpret the data and action things on farm. A lot of the imagery I've seen of my farm is of high-density pastures that I know is largely barley grass that hasn't been grazed. Farmers must have input into the software development and data interpretation to make sure it's as accurate as possible."

Despite the one-year timeframe for the app commercialisation, Mr Musson said it would be worth the wait.

"We will continue to support the research as long as possible. Not only will it benefit our industry, but it will keep me and my employees on our toes," he said.

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