As Leading-Edge training facility SuniTAFE transforms its agriculture operation through the adoption of precision ag technology, John Deere Connected Support will be right beside them to maximize uptime.
The Mildura Farm campus is situated in the Mallee district of Victoria and grows a variety of 10 crops across 30 ha, with up to 150 students on the books, and has aligned to a Sustainable, Manageable, Accessible, Rural Technologies (SMART) approach to farming.
As the agricultural landscape has evolved, and data-driven farming has never been more important, SuniTAFE SMART Farm Manager, Warren Lloyd, said it was essential the facility could provide precision agriculture training. Warren said:
“We are embracing technology and want to make sure we’re at the forefront of any advancements in horticulture.”
“We are trialing the latest technologies here and then teaching it to our students, so they are the forerunners when they head into careers in the industry.”
The facility was named Australia’s number one large training provider in 2019, with 88.9% of graduates finding work or enrolling in further education.
Working with its local John Deere dealership, Haeusler’s Mildura, SuniTAFE took the first step of its precision agriculture pathway through enhancing a John Deere 5085GF Tractor with JDLink and Generation 4 CommandCenter technology.
The intensive farm site currently grows dried, table and wine grapes, citrus, avocados, almonds, olives, dates, vegetables, and will soon plant an industrial hemp crop.
Through John Deere equipment, and Connected Support which will enhance uptime, Warren is eager to see SuniTAFE become a state-of-the-art training and research facility that will harness the latest innovations and practices of digital farming, and hopefully, help horticulture evolve. Warren said:
“We have a unique opportunity to showcase the potential of technology advances in real-life applications at a grassroots level.”
Warren describes SuniTAFE’s relationship with Haeusler’s as a close-knit partnership. It is an alliance that is underwritten through John Deere Connected Support, a digital toolkit intrinsically linking farmers with their dealers.
Features within the system, like Remote Display Access, allow a qualified technician to connect virtually to the cab and assist in troubleshooting with set-up or to increase optimization of technology and machinery.
Although SuniTAFE is only 5 km away from its local dealership, Warren said this link was invaluable as it prevented failures from occurring in the first place. Warren said:
“It’s a fantastic feature as it’s better for the dealer and better for us. If they can connect remotely to help us with something minor it is saving everyone time.”
“The key to farming is often solving problems, and farmers who can solve problems swiftly and easily are often the most successful.”
Through John Deere Connected Support, uptime is maximized with Service ADVISOR Remote which allows for real-time Diagnostic Trouble Codes to isolate potential issues and garner the correct information, so, if a technician is needed on-farm, they will bring the correct tools and parts for the job.
SuniTAFE’s precision agriculture journey has been fueled with the John Deere Operations Center, a system that automatically records and collates real-time paddock data.
As a fourth-generation dried grape grower himself, Warren said he was impressed with how smoothly the John Deere technology had been rolled out.
He knows firsthand how important the collection of up-to-date farm records has become, but also understands the burden it can impede on farmers. He said:
“Keeping records can be a real bugbear.”
“If you leave it even a day and try and remember yourself, it can quickly become a nightmare. The fact our John Deere Tractor does that autonomously and immediately is incredible.”
Also, the on-board weather station, fitted to the top of the 5085GF, was “hugely effective” he said.
“On a personal level, I believe my own spray records for my farm have been found wanting. I was relying on weather data from the internet, but it needs to be much more localized.”
“In that respect, I don’t think you can be more localized than having a weather station that’s attached to the roof of your tractor.”
Now the property has been fully mapped, spraying has also been simplified. The tractor’s attached herbicide unit automatically operates, saving time, money and giving better environmental outcomes. He said:
“You just drive into the row and it turns on when you enter, and then it turns off when you leave.”
“I feel, with the real-time data, it’s helping set some parameters. You can see the wind is blowing 19 km per hour from the northwest, the temperature is above 30 degrees, so you know it’s no good for spraying.”
“When there’s a breach of the parameters, you are alerted while in the cabin and you can make the decision to stop spraying.”
Eventually, 50% of the SuniTAFE’s farm will grow commodities regularly planted in the region and the balance will be sown to high-grade trials. Currently, there is a Chardonnay vineyard being used to find methods of eradicating powdery mildew.
Warren said precision agriculture technology was essential in those experiments, which could pave the way for more industry advancements.
One of Warren’s most rewarding aspects of his work at SuniTAFE was watching students go on to have exciting agricultural careers. He said:
“In horticulture, there is a need to find people who have specialised skills. Because of that, as an industry, we have to try and retain some of the best and brightest kids to our sector.”
“Nowadays you do not have to be born on a farm to become a farmer, you just have to have enthusiasm and a love of growing things.”