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The future of precision agriculture lies in data.




  • Cultivate
  • Product News


14 February, 2017



Young, NSW

While the future of precision agriculture is likely to involve robotics and other cutting edge technologies, the big focus will be on data ownership, according to JMAJ Precision Managing Director Adrian Roles.
Cultivate Precision Agriculture Adrian Roles

Adrian’s career in precision agriculture (PA), or digital agronomy as he prefers to call it, started at a grassroots level on the family farm near Young in New South Wales.

The 920-hectare property is dedicated to a 70:30 split livestock and cropping enterprise, mainly focused on a self-replacing Merino flock, comprising 4200 ewes.

Adrian lives on the farm with his family, wife Amber and their two children, Edith (2) and Maeve (5), and also involved in the farm are Adrian’s parents, John and Margaret, his brother, Julian, and sister, Imogen.

A third generation farmer, Adrian returned to the family farm after completing a science degree and said his interest in PA was a natural progression.

He said the farm simply wasn’t large enough to support the three families involved at the time, so they were looking for off-farm income, with the idea of expanding the property in the future.

Their contract spraying business expanded to include windrowing, and the trucks needed to transport the windrowers were then fitted with spreaders. The focus shifted to contract spreading, which proved to be more pro table.

“We had a client at the time who wanted variable rate data collected and I had an interest in the technology, as it was obvious that it was the way things were heading,” Adrian said.

“It was fairly natural for us, as Dad was always a progressive farmer. He had the first lime spreader in the district in the 1980s and had been very proactive in his lime program and being involved in farming groups.

“He was quite the home engineer, so he was always building things to try and make things better.

“So we got into eM38 (electromagnetic induction device) and pH sampling with Veris equipment. We were one of the first to have a Veris in Australia at the time.

“It never stood out that much for us, because Dad had applied as much as 15 tonne/ha of lime on the farm for the last 35 years, and with our granite-based soils, there was a stark contrast in pH.

“Dad had pretty much been doing variable rate application anyway, as he knew parts of the paddock were less acidic than others, so with an old Marshall he would do sections of the paddock at different rates.”


At the time, they were taking the variable rate data samples using hydrogen ions at one shot per hectare, but Adrian said they realised they needed more data to obtain a more accurate reading.

So when Veris released a new, automated machine that allowed them to get 20-30 samples per hectare, Adrian said they eagerly embraced the technology.

“It gives us really good quality data and, in my opinion, the more data you have the better your maps will be,” he said.

As the interest in PA increased, their off-farm business, JMAJ Precision, changed direction.

The truck fleet downsized, but their arsenal of PA tools grew.

Adrian’s thirst for knowledge in the field also increased and when he was introduced to Mark Pawsey from SST Software Australia, the game changed again.

“It was a life changing moment,” Adrian said.

“Mark kept talking about standardised spatial data and I didn’t really know what he was talking about or think I needed to know, because I wasn’t a consultant, I was just a contractor.

“Finally the penny dropped on what standardised spatial data was, and when that happens, it blows everything else that most people in the industry are doing out of the water.

“If you don’t have a full standardised spatial system, then you can’t use the data sets to their full advantage.

“At this stage, I had been using yield maps for about seven years and I realised that they were just pretty maps, with very little value.

“Once I got that, Pawsey sucked me further into the world of standardised spatial data and things snowballed from there.

“It suddenly went from a cute little farm business to flying all over Australia and on overseas trips, all within the last two years.”

JMAJ Precision now works with a range of clients, from individual farmers through to various corporate agribusinesses and private agronomists, consulting on digital agronomy and providing the necessary equipment.

Adrian is passionate about empowering agronomists, as he believes they should play the main supporting role in a farmer’s business.

He is also committed to testing new methods and technologies on his own property before recommending it to others.


To make that easier, Adrian said he would like to see regionally- based productivity indexes developed to provide a base recipe for anyone doing locally-based modelling.

“The recipe for what I use here in Young isn’t going to work somewhere in WA – and a lot of companies only have one recipe base.’’

“We need to develop regionally-based indices so we can use that as locally-based modelling, rather than having to do all that initial trial and error work ourselves.

“The best thing you’ve got in this business is reputation and I would rather know something is tried and tested before I recommend it.’’

When Bayer released the Group K pre-emergent herbicide, Sakura®, in 2012, Adrian conducted strip and broadacre trials on the farm to see if the product was a good investment.

Containing the active ingredient, pyroxasulfone, Sakura controls annual ryegrass, barley grass, silver grass, annual phalaris and toad rush and also suppresses wild oats (black oats) and brome grass in wheat (not durum wheat), triticale, chickpeas, field peas, lentils and lupins.

He compared Sakura to trifluralin, using standardised spatial data to compile a report which compared the data.

“In 2012, when we used it in one paddock, it was the cleanest paddock we had,” he said.

“In 2013, we thought we would do some broadacre trials and we ran it side-by-side with trifluralin. Where we used Sakura, the paddocks were cleaner by visual inspection and they were consistently about 0.4-0.5 t/ha better off.

“That’s a good example of how, if everything is done according to a standardised spatial data set, you can compare all your spray logs, yield and costings, and you don’t have to sit there analysing a spreadsheet. You just plug it in and it will spit out the report for you.”

On their own farm, Adrian said they were currently using a range of PA tools, including elevation data off GPS and autosteer; sectional control; Veris soil eCA (apparent electrical conductivity) maps at four depths; pH mapping; soil colour through a spectrometer; various nitrogen ion sensors; yield data; Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI); and atmospheric corrected NDVI.

“The most important tool set we’re using is AgX-based software – that’s the only full standardised spatial system software in the world,” he said.

“It can seem overwhelming, but most farmers have a lot of the data sets already, they just don’t realise it. Every farmer will know where the high yielding and low yielding parts of their paddocks are and most of the time they can tell you the reasons why."

“We always say: Go with what’s free and then do some soil tests, which will help you decide what the next course of action will be.”

With some exciting technologies on the horizon, such as robotics, Adrian predicts that over the next five years, PA will become industrial.

He viewed that as a positive, but he said ownership and access to data was likely to be a bigger issue.

“This is an industry built around a handshake deal. Trust is a big thing for farmers.’’

“I prefer to talk about administration of the data and, if farmers are concerned, I suggest to them that they sign a contract which states they have full administration rights of the data sets.

“I think the data should actually be assigned to the paddock rather than an individual, so that if you buy land, the data goes with the sale. That won’t happen anytime soon, but hopefully, in the meantime, AgX gets adopted in Australia as industry standard and farmers would be the ‘admins’ of all their own data and have the ability to opt in and out.

“If a company like Bayer had access to data of what was planted and where, then farmers could farm more accurately and forecast their chemical requirements,’’ Adrian said.

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  • Cultivate
  • Product News


14 February, 2017



Young, NSW