Timeliness is the name of the game for Nick Westphalen, who looks for technologies he can rely on to keep his Mallee broadacre business on track regardless of distance, access to experts or even a pandemic.
In 2020, John Deere Connected Support became integral to the ongoing success of Nick’s operation, ensuring he could access operational support despite COVID-19 travel restrictions and social distancing.
Nick and his wife Tamara started their broadacre cropping business, Westgrow, in 2010, powered by a passion for farming, strong business acumen and industry knowledge from Nick’s days running Park Motors at Pinnaroo, just over the South Australia border.
His grandfather started the John Deere dealership in the 1940s and it stayed in the family until 2009, when Nick swapped selling tractors for driving them.
Westgrow’s cropping program is 60% cereals (60% is barley, 40% wheat) and 40% lupins, lentils, vetch hay and canola. This year, yield targets are 2.5 t/ha for barley and 1.9 t/ha wheat.
Confidence from the virtual control
Although the family lives at Pinnaroo but farms in Victoria, COVID-19 didn’t present a huge imposition to the business. However, with some land outside the 40 km buffer zone established for cross-border travel, there were times when Nick could not access paddocks and his two employees could not travel into South Australia to collect parts or chemicals.
The pandemic would have thrown a spanner in the works at seeding if it had not been for Connected Support.
Nick had just taken delivery of a new John Deere 9470RT Tractor fitted with AutoTrac automatic steering and a dual display Generation 4 (Gen4) CommandCenter, features which have formed the foundation of his precision agriculture journey.
In any other year, a technician would have made the five-hour return trip out from the Haeuslers dealership in Mildura to show Nick the ropes of Gen4. But with social distancing in force, the technician turned to Remote Display Access which is enabled via JDLink to connect virtually into Nick’s cab. He said:
“I was sitting in the tractor and the technician was working from home. He could see what was on my screen so he knew where I was up to and could talk me through setting up for seeding.”
“It can be overwhelming to sit down for hours going through a new program. The ability to learn the system in blocks of time let me process the information and try it out in the paddock as I went, so it was more efficient for everyone.”
The technician also logged in virtually during seeding to talk Nick through any questions he had, without the need to halt operations.
Expert Alerts, a feature that provides Nick with confidence, allows dealers to proactively identify and diagnose a machine in some situations before it becomes symptomatic. The diagnostic tool can assist a technician who has been alerted by an Expert Alert to assess if the machine requires urgent attention, or if it can continue temporarily until a convenient time, maximizing machine uptime and minimizing impact to the bottom line.
“This feature will be vital if we do have a problem as we can quickly diagnose it without the downtime from waiting for a mechanic to come out. It gives us peace of mind – we might think it’s a little thing and keep going, but if it turns out to be a big problem that could create a lot of stress, expense and lost time.”
Nick also uses the John Deere MyOperations App to stay informed of where his workers are when he is not in the paddock and to help plan the timing of vital work such as scheduling trucks.
As Nick continues to connect his fleet digitally, he plans to replace the 2630 display in his 4930 Self-Propelled Sprayer with Gen4 to enhance the flow of data between this machine and the Operations Center.
Timing is everything
Nick’s farming philosophy is to keep it simple: rotations that suit the environment, easy-to-operate machinery and a non-negotiable cropping calendar geared to minimize seasonal risk.
Their predominately sandy loam soils receive an average of 310 mm/year and well-timed strategies such as prompt spraying are important to retain soil moisture.
Nick’s dealership background has instilled a solid understanding of what happens behind the scenes, such as sourcing parts, which he factors in to ensure machinery is ready to go. Nick said:
“I am very strict on timing – we are ready to start seeding on 1 April, regardless of whether it is wet or dry, and we aim to finish by 10 May.”
He fires up his John Deere S680 Combine Harvester, fitted with a 40 foot 640FD Flex Draper Front, in the last week of October and finishes harvest by mid to late December.
This year has proved to Nick just how critical technologies such as remote access are to keep the show on the road.