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Spring 2015

Precision Farming in Sarina

The North Queensland town of Sarina, that was the administrative capital of the Shire of Sarina from 1 January 1912 to its amalgamation with the City of Mackay and the Shire of Mirani on the 15 March 2008, boasts some interesting statistics. Notably, the Sarina State High School holds the rather impressive record of having produced four State of Origin and International Rugby League representatives to date, namely Dale Shearer, Kevin Campion, Martin Vella and Wendell Sailor (who also was an International Rugby Union Rep).

Sarina is also well known for a number of key industries, however, notably sugar cane growing and milling (plus ethanol distilling), cattle grazing and agriculture. Graham Matsen is a man who knows some of these industries well. His parents were into cattle and sugar production, so he was ‘born into it’, but he worked for fifteen years as a fitter and turner, travelling in and out of mining and gas producing towns. When his father retired in the year 2000, Graham was presented with the ‘good opportunity’ of taking over the farm, and he accept- ed it. He has never looked back.

Graham’s farm is now mostly centred around sugar cane production and cattle on what he describes as a ‘medium-size’ farm. Later purchasing another small farm, he diversified into macadamia production as a hedge against the peaks and troughs of the sugar industry. Graham planted and sprays the 6000 tree orchard using the GPS technology. While he reflects that farming ‘has never been easy’, Graham also recognises that ‘technology has made it easier’. The first advantage of using precision farming technology that Graham mentions is that ‘it keeps the cost down’. Graham explains that this is because there is less overlap with precision farming, which means less waste, or reduced input costs, plus it saves labour costs. Another significant advantage is that the technology is ‘quite user-friendly’. Graham’s John Deere 6125R tractor is equipped with a StarFire (SF2) GPS and a variety of operators ranging from Graham’s father, who is in his 80’s and bought his first John Deere in 1957, to a 17 year old inexperienced worker, ‘have used it, with no issues at all’.

Graham is very appreciative of the support he receives from Vanderfield Mackay and is very pleased with the ‘strong presence’ that John Deere now has in the area thanks to the branch. In addition, he is starting to use more of the features associated with precision farming technology and, to that effect, he recently attended a half-day training session organised by Vanderfield Precision Farming Specialist Andrew Speed in the Mackay area.

One of the possible future developments for growers like Graham and others in his area could be upgrading GPS machine control systems from differential satellite corrections to more accurate Real Time Kinematic (or RTK) corrections from a local “base station”. As Andrew explains, Vanderfield has to date constructed 27 base stations around Queensland in those farming areas where the investment is viable. Corrections from the base station are transmitted to machines operat- ing within a 20km radius via a constant radio link, effectively meaning that a constant line of site needs to be maintained. This presents a challenge in undulating topography for Vanderfield owned base stations to cover multiple customer farms, which often means investment by the grower to have their own on-farm base station infrastructure.

In terms of precision, Andrew points out that the technique used by base stations, Real Time Kinematic (or RTK), uses StarFire signals to offer repeatable signal of 2cm. In comparison, the SF2 signal currently used by Graham’s receiver offers 5 cm pass to pass accuracy whereas SF1 provides 23 cm pass to pass. As Graham sees it, this increased accuracy is the main advantage of having a base station, as cost to the user would not be much different to the annual John Deere subscription to SF2 signal from satellites.

Regarding technical support, Graham is covered by the Vanderfield Technical Assistance Centre (VTAC) service, which includes round the clock technical support, seven days a week. With this service, any operator in need of support can ring a 1300 number, and the call is either directed to the Vanderfield call centre or, if it happens outside of business hours, to the JD Stellar Support Customer Call Center in America. Ninety per cent of issues are able to be solved remotely, but Vanderfield also has technicians who are sent when on-site support is needed.

Graham’s three children are all grown up now and have found their own paths in life, but he wonders whether the innovation found in precision farming could ‘entice a younger generation’ of farmers to come back to the land. In the meantime, he is one of many farmers of all ages who have successfully and painlessly incorporated technology to their operation, and are reaping its benefits. If you would like to find out more about what Vanderfield has to offer in this area, please contact us on 1300 VANDER or your nearest branch.