BEEFWOOD Farms, Moree, is pursuing a path of innovation and technology uptake by purchasing new sprayer technology it believes will be a game-changer fighting weeds and reducing its overall chemical inputs.
Taking delivery of an Agrifac Endurance self-propelled sprayer last week, the machine incorporates smart weed detection technology with cameras mounted on the sprayer’s booms.
An on-board computer recognises weeds from real-time images of the crops and targets individual plants with herbicide application via the sprayer.
Beefwood Farms’ manager Glenn Coughran said the need to increase capacity for spot spraying and weed detection across Beefwood’s 11,000 hectares spurred investment in the new technology.
“We'd used the two brands that had been available in Australia, the WeedSeeker and then the WEEDit, but they're sort of limited to 24 and 36-metre configurations.
“In our farming system we were limited to 24m because our configurations are 12m headers, 24m planters, and 48m spray rigs; 36m doesn't work for us.
“So we wanted to increase our capacity, preferably in one machine rather than two or three machines.”
The Agrifac Endurance sprayer covers 48m and Mr Coughran said if it's as good as it's designed to be, it will have much better detection abilities.
“The main goal is we would expect to be able to detect a green weed in a green crop.”
This end goal is all part of Beefwood’s integrated weed management strategy and Mr Coughran said one of the major benefits of this machine is its contribution to Beefwood’s herbicide resistance plan.
“The plan is to be able to go in and use robust rates on those herbicide resistant weeds,” he said.
“Because of its capacity and its width we'll be looking to run our weed detection machines a lot more than we have in the past.
“We need more capacity because we're going to be out there more often, so we've either got to go wider to stay efficient or we've got to go autonomous.”
Mr Coughran said instead of sending a blanket sprayer out into the field after every rain event, the plant-recognising technology would allow for a targeted approach and ultimately save a substantial amount on chemical.
With the aim of being as efficient as possible in everything they do, Mr Coughran said the decision to invest in such technology came down to one thing.
“We couldn’t afford to not invest in the technology.”
Beefwood’s Agrifac Endurance sprayer will operate at the Tulloona Field Day on Thursday, March 15.
Autonomous tractors proving economical
The use of innovative technology is nothing new for Beefwood Farms, which has been running autonomous tractors for several years.
Starting with a Fendt 936 Vario tractor fitted with Precision Makers software, Mr Coughran quickly realised that it was the busiest tractor on the property.
This prompted the recent purchase of a John Deere 8345 tractor, also fitted with Precision Maker equipment.
Mr Coughran said after looking at all models of tractors they decided the John Deere was the most logical option.
“If we could get that right autonomously, then it would probably be the most widely adopted tractor,” he said.
“Nearly every farm has a green tractor, and we wanted to go down a path with the software being the platform for lots of implements that are quite common,” he said.
“If they could get the John Deere software right, then they could be set up quite easily and anyone could do it, providing its got the E23 transmission.
“We didn't look at buying a specific machine that's only autonomous because every farmer wants to use their tractor for multiple things quite often,” Mr Coughran said.
Since Beefwood started using autonomous tractors three years ago, Mr Coughran said it had been able to be more economical with its weed management strategy.
“On average this summer, with the technology we've been using, less than five per cent of the area the machine goes over gets sprayed,” he said.
“On our second last round of spraying, we targeted the dirtiest of the field and we went to 20pc on that, but basically on average we've been around that five per cent or less.
“On one complete spraying we've saved about 93pc of the product.”