Today a wide range of digital technology is having a major impact on the way farmers can plan and manage their business.
The potential of digital technology has been evident for a long time, but in recent years the tools and software have become readily available, easy to use and viable for farmers to acquire and use data to help them make better decisions.
Tocal College has integrated digital agriculture into the Youth Education program at Paterson and delivered the very well received four-day Precision Agronomy course for hundreds of producers in the cropping industries of NSW under the AgSkilled funding program.
The focus of this course is on using data such as Normalised Differential Vegetation Index (NDVI), crop yield data, soil survey and test data to develop field maps to then set up and operate precision application equipment.
Tocal College in now progressing further into data acquisition and management with the launch of an accredited training course on the practical use of drones (UAVs) in agriculture.
The college is working with NSW Farmers with this training and partnering with leading UAV trainer, Ben Watts from Bralca.
Ben has been consulting for farmers and delivering drone training right across Australia for eight years.
As well as drone training, Ben operates livestock properties and became involved in data acquisition and management in response to the need to find more efficient way of monitoring and managing crops, pastures, livestock and farm infrastructure (fences and water).
The training program focuses on the practical needs of farmers and useful tasks which save time and money.
This can be as simple as reducing vehicle wear and tear and operator safety by using a drone to inspect rough and inaccessible areas on the farm.
Another focus of the course is helping farmers identify what they really need in a drone, monitoring equipment and software.
Participants learn what can be achieved with a relatively inexpensive 'consumer' drone, attached accessories and software which can be put in place by a farmer for under $5000.
They also learn how a basic optical drone camera can collect useful data.
In addition to the basics, participants will learn about the potential of NDVI and developments of affordable thermal imaging cameras.
NDVI provides a measure of crop and pasture 'greenness' and vigour, an indicator which can be used to make better informed decision about planting and fertilising.
The newest drone mounted technology becoming affordable is thermal imaging cameras.
Thermal imaging can be used to help with a range of farm monitoring and decision making like assessing crop canopy temperature to get an indication of how actively the crop or pasture is growing.
This can assist with irrigation scheduling and thermal images can even help farmers identify irrigation channel leakages as well as locate livestock and detect pest animals in crops.
There is even potential to use thermal imaging technology currently in the final stage of development to identify individual sick animals if they have an elevated body temperature.
In addition to the practical benefit of learning how drones can assist with farm management and decision making, another benefit of the course is to help participants become compliant with CASA legal requirements for drone operation, as well as covering drone setup and operation, automated crop map collection, and data processing and analysis.
The course is a one-day practical workshop combined with some pre-course online work.
It is accredited and aligns to two units from the Certificate III in Agriculture.
Tocal College is collaborating with NSW Farmers to deliver this course across all regions of NSW and the training is eligible for subsidy funding under the NSW Government AgSkilled 2.0 funding program which has just been launched.
- Visit: www.tocal.nsw.edu.au/courses/short-courses