New AgIntel eye in the sky allows variable gypsum and lime spreading - Elders Rural Services
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New AgIntel eye in the sky allows variable gypsum and lime spreading

The red soils on Russell and Tyson Moloney’s Oaklands farm need up to four times more lime than his black soils and now new technology is helping him work out exactly where to draw the line, saving him money and maximising productivity.

The Moloneys’ advisor, Elders agronomist Rob Harrod, said the black soils could take 2000 kilograms a hectare of gypsum to improve structure and drainage, while the red soils might only need 500kg/ha to provide enough sulphur for legumes and oilseed crops like canola.

Mr Harrod said the traditional approach would be to map soils with electromagnetic surveys.

“EMS has two disadvantages,” he said. “One, it takes a lot of time driving up and down thousands of acres. The other is that moisture in the soil can upset the results.”

Instead, Russell Moloney and Elders have been using new-generation satellite AgIntel data, which is able to analyse several different types of light spectrums to analyse the composition of the soil.

“The satellite is very quick. It’s a very, very efficient way of looking at things and doing large areas in a short time,” Mr Harrod said.

They discovered that AgIntel’s mapping of iron oxide differentiated between black and red soils very accurately, irrespective of the soil moisture content.

The 3600ha farm was being mapped at 1200ha a year, while about a quarter of the paddocks were conventionally tested to check the accuracy of the AgIntel maps.

“The AgIntel maps and soil test results seem to be corresponding pretty well across the paddocks,” Mr Moloney said.

“The more I look at it, the more confident I am that the AgIntel maps pretty much trace the changes in the soils.

“We should be up and running with variable rate maps applying lime and gypsum in January, which is pretty exciting.”

There were economies and productivity gains to be made when it came to both lime and gypsum, Mr Moloney said.

“Red soils are usually more acidic and they need more lime and the darker soils need less, so we’re just trying to get a cost saving,” he said.

“Most of our paddocks have both soils, so the only thing we could do was just put a blanket rate across the whole lot but we’re trying to do it more efficiently.”

The AgIntel imagery showed a stark improvement over older, less advanced satellite data, Mr Harrod said.

“It’s very good definition and there’s an image we can use probably twice a week,” he said.

“One of the biggest problems with satellite imagery in the past has been that if you only have a satellite image every three weeks and that day is cloudy, you’d miss out for six weeks.

“With their excellent resolution, series of different data streams and improved availability, the AgIntel satellite technology is becoming really useful.”

Mr Harrod said AgIntel, which is available through Elders, allowed farmers and agronomists to monitor crops and pastures for stress, frost damage, vigour as well as being able to assess soils for certain characteristics.

“Going forward, this is going to be the way people assess their farms, manage data, and put that into useful practice so they have better outcomes on their farm’s bottom line,” Mr Harrod said.

“It is early days but we’re working on some pretty exciting things.”

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