High tech trial

HIGH TECH FARMING: The drone has real-time sensors that can measure pasture yield as it grows, helping farmers better estimate the amount of feed they have.

A NEW technology being trialled in Western Victoria is set to help farmers grow more productive pastures and better utilise livestock feed management systems.

Agriculture Victoria researchers have developed real-time sensors that can measure pasture yield as it grows, helping farmers better estimate the amount of feed they have.

It also helps farmers make more informed decisions about when to move stock onto or off paddocks or whether they need to consider more or less supplementary feed, such as hay and grain.

The research, which is taking place near Hamilton and has been jointly funded by the Victorian Government, Dairy Australia and the Gardiner Foundation through the DairyBio and DairyFeedbase programs, is also providing useful information to plant breeders, potentially helping to accelerate the development of new and improved plant varieties for farmers.

Agriculture Victoria senior research scientist Professor Kevin Smith said the research combines the latest sensor technologies from ground to satellite to provide real-time information on plant growth.

“As well as providing farmers with the ability to better allocate pasture to animals, this technology has the potential to measure individual plants in breeding programs to allow plant breeders to select plants with greater accuracy, with the aim of tripling the rate of genetic gain,” Prof Smith said.

“We have been working with partner farms and breeding companies from the earliest stages of this project to ensure the technology is fit-for-purpose and suited to the needs of both researchers and farmers.”

Prof Smith said early indications were promising with sonar and satellite technology being trialled on dairy farms across Victoria to measure the dry matter of pasture.

“We have developed a sensor-based acquisition and analysis pipeline to measure dry matter yield, nutritive characteristics and survival of hundreds of thousands of individual plants in the world’s largest perennial ryegrass breeding nursery based at the Hamilton SmartFarm.

“Previously this work would have involved the laborious task of physical plant counts, collecting plant samples and analysis in the lab, which would have been impossible at this large scale.

“The development of this technology will not only deliver critical information to farmers to inform their management decision-making, but it will also see new pasture varieties better suited to a changing climate becoming available sooner.”