Mallee farmer overcomes 'social distancing' on a grand scale

Technology removes isolation problem for Mallee farmer during COVID-19 lockdown

Machinery
STAYING CONNECTED: John Deere Connected Support was vital when Westgrow's Nick Westphalen received his new John Deere 9470RT tractor this year.

STAYING CONNECTED: John Deere Connected Support was vital when Westgrow's Nick Westphalen received his new John Deere 9470RT tractor this year.

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Modern communications technology from John Deere helped a border hopping Mallee farmer to keep operating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Timeliness is the name of the game for Nick Westphalen who looks for technologies he can rely on to keep his Victorian Mallee broadacre business on track regardless of distance, access to experts or even a pandemic.

This year John Deere Connected Support became integral to the ongoing success of Mr Westphalen's business by ensuring he could access operational support despite COVID-19 travel restrictions and social distancing.

He and wife Tamara started their broadacre cropping business, Westgrow, in 2010, powered by a passion for farming, strong business acumen and industry knowledge from Mr Westphalen's days running Park Motors at Pinnaroo, just over the South Australia border.

His grandfather started the John Deere dealership in the 1940s and it stayed in the family until 2009 when Mr Westphalen swapped selling tractors for driving them.

Westgrow's cropping program is 60 per cent cereals (barley and wheat) and 40pc lupins, lentils, vetch hay and canola.

This year yield targets are 2.5 tonnes a hectare for barley and 1.9 t/ha for wheat.

Although the family lives at Pinnaroo but farms in Victoria, COVID-19 didn't present a huge problem for the business.

However, with some land outside the 40km buffer zone established for cross-border travel, there were times when Mr Westphalen could not access paddocks and his two employees couldn't travel into SA to collect parts or chemicals.

With social distancing in force, Nick Westphalen relied upon John Deere Remote Display Access to receive training from his technician in Mildura.

With social distancing in force, Nick Westphalen relied upon John Deere Remote Display Access to receive training from his technician in Mildura.

The pandemic would have thrown a spanner in the works at seeding if it had not been for Deere's Connected Support.

Mr Westphalen had just taken delivery of a new John Deere 9470RT tractor fitted with AutoTrac automatic steering and a dual-display Generation 4 CommandCenter, features which have formed the foundation of his precision agriculture journey.

In any other year a technician would have made the five-hour return trip out from the Haeuslers dealership in Mildura to show Mr Westphalen the ropes of Gen4.

But with social distancing in force, the technician turned to remote display access which is enabled via JDLink to connect virtually into Mr Westphalen's cab.

"I was sitting in the tractor and the technician was working from home. He could see what was on my screen so he knew where I was up to and could talk me through setting up for seeding," Mr Westphalen said.

"It can be overwhelming to sit down for hours going through a new program. The ability to learn the system in blocks of time let me process the information and try it out in the paddock as I went, so it was more efficient for everyone."

The technician also logged in virtually during seeding to talk him through any questions he had, without the need to halt operations.

Expert Alerts allows dealers to proactively identify and diagnose a machine in some situations before it becomes symptomatic.

The diagnostic tool can assist a technician who has been alerted by an Expert Alert to assess if the machine requires urgent attention or if it can continue temporarily until a convenient time, maximising machine uptime and minimising impact to the bottom line.

"This feature will be vital if we do have a problem as we can quickly diagnose it without the downtime from waiting for a mechanic to come out.

"It gives us peace of mind - we might think it's a little thing and keep going but if it turns out to be a big problem that could create a lot of stress, expense and lost time."

Mr Westphalen also uses the John Deere MyOperations app to stay informed of where his workers are when he is not in the paddock and to help plan the timing of vital work such as scheduling trucks.

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