SuniTAFE's Mildura campus is using a partnership with a local John Deere dealership to achieve its ambition of becoming a state-of-the-art precision agriculture education and research facility.
The campus is situated in Victoria's Mallee region and grows a variety of 10 crops across 30 hectares with up to 150 students on the books and has aligned to a Sustainable, Manageable, Accessible, Rural Technologies (SMART) approach to farming.
SuniTAFE SMART farm manager Warren Lloyd said it was essential the facility could provide precision ag training.
"We are embracing technology and want to make sure we're at the forefront of any advancements in horticulture," he said.
"We are trialing the latest technologies here and then teaching it to our students, so they are the forerunners when they head into careers in the industry."
The facility was named Australia's number one large training provider in 2019 with 88.9 per cent of graduates finding work or enrolling in further education.
Working with its local John Deere dealership, Haeusler's Mildura, SuniTAFE took the first step of its precision agriculture pathway by fitting a John Deere 5085GF tractor with JDLink and Generation 4 CommandCenter technology.
The intensive farm site now grows dried, table and wine grapes, citrus, avocados, almonds, olives, dates, vegetables, and will soon plant an industrial hemp crop.
Mr Lloyd is eager to see SuniTAFE become a state-of-the-art training and research facility that will harness the latest innovations and best practices of digital farming and hopefully help horticulture evolve.
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Mr Lloyd said SuniTAFE's relationship with Haeusler's was a close-knit partnership.
It is an alliance that is underwritten through John Deere Connected Support, a digital toolkit linking farmers with their dealer.
Features within the system, like remote display access, allow a qualified technician to connect virtually to the cab and assist in troubleshooting with set-up or to increase optimisation of technology and machinery.
Although SuniTAFE is only 5km away from its local dealership, Mr Lloyd said this link was invaluable as it prevented failures from occurring in the first place.
"It's a fantastic feature as it's better for the dealer and better for us. If they can connect remotely to help us with something minor it is saving everyone time.
"The key to farming is often solving problems and farmers who can solve problems swiftly and easily are often the most successful."
SuniTAFE's precision agriculture journey has been fuelled with the John Deere Operations Center, a system which automatically records and collates real-time paddock data.
As a fourth-generation dried grape grower himself, Mr Lloyd said he was impressed with how smoothly the John Deere technology had been rolled out.
"Keeping records can be a real bugbear," he said.
"If you leave it even a day and try and remember yourself, it can quickly become a nightmare. The fact our John Deere tractor does that autonomously and immediately is incredible."
Also, the on-board weather station, fitted to the top of the 5085GF, was "hugely effective" he said.
"On a personal level, I believe my own spray records for my farm have been found wanting. I was relying on weather data from the internet but it needs to be much more localised," he said.
Now the property has been fully mapped, spraying has also been simplified. The tractor's attached herbicide unit operates automatically, saving time, money and giving better environmental outcomes.
"You just drive into the row and it turns on when you enter and then it turns off when you leave," he said.
"I feel, with the real-time data, it's helping set some parameters. You can see the wind is blowing 19 km per hour from the north west, the temperature is above 30 degrees, so you know it's no good for spraying.