NEWS RELEASE May 09, 2023
User-friendly precision ag tools provide support for farmers
Crestmead, Queensland (9 May, 2023) – WIMMERA farmer Tim Rethus describes precision agriculture as a "really powerful" tool for his family's 5000-hectare broadacre cropping operation, one that takes the guesswork out of farming and provides the data to ground-truth decisions.
"There is still room for gut feel in farming but precision agriculture puts the numbers around that. Having digital tools and data takes the subjectivity out of decisions and helps us to manage proactively," Mr Rethus said.
"We can do analysis quite quickly on the phone, tablet or at home on the computer and make decisions as though we're actually standing on every hectare."
Trading as Rethus Broadacre, Tim, his brother Luke and father Geoff Rethus and their families grow dryland wheat, barley, canola, lentils, faba beans and oaten hay crops in western Victoria.
The family has found precision agriculture systems also provide flexibility in directing their workforce, and employees are attracted by the opportunity to work with the latest technology.
"One of our challenges is getting skilled labour to do farm activities and the digital tools help workers to become familiar with their roles a lot more easily and quickly," Mr Rethus said.
"We can support them by using John Deere Operations Center™ to log in remotely and give them directions, as well as simplify their tasks."
Variable rate fertiliser saves time and money
Mr Rethus advises farmers to "take small steps" when starting out on the precision agriculture journey, and begin with the "low hanging fruit".
"These tools have been developed by John Deere to fix farmers' problems. Have a vision of what you want to fix and find the tool that will help you achieve that. Everything builds on that first small thing. Once you pick the first apple, reach up the tree for the next one,” he said.
"Operations Center is a great platform to start with, it's free and is very user friendly, so get a log in and start using it by putting your paddocks in and recording and capturing data. There are some easy wins to be had.”
Mr Rethus said variable rate lime applications had been a "no brainer".
"We would normally do a blanket rate application of lime across the field to raise any areas with low pH towards neutrality. But by grid sampling our field in two hectare grids, and using Operations Center to build a prescription map, we actually ended up applying 40% less lime," Mr Rethus explained.
"The saving is easy to see – you are literally delivering less truckloads of lime to the paddock, so the pile of lime is less. And it's better for the environment, because we're only applying fertiliser where it's needed.”
Rethus Broadacre has applied the same principle to the use of gypsum and phosphorus. Soil testing revealed that phosphorus in one paddock varied from as low as nine ppm to as high as 66 ppm – and averaged 33.
"Precision agriculture showed that we're putting the right amount of phosphorus on the crop but just not in the right places, so it's making the application of fertiliser more efficient,” Mr Rethus said.
"With nitrogen it's a bit trickier, but the new John Deere protein sensor is fantastic. It allows us to analyse whether we're harvesting high protein or low protein, in other words, whether the crop has responded to nitrogen applications or if it's actually missing some other trace element that needs investigating.
"This will eventually lead to maps which can tell us which areas of the paddock are more profitable, by identifying crop quality and yield.
"Then we can start saying yes, we should spend money on nitrogen to lift yields overall.
"It's really, really powerful data."
Data reduces conflict in partnerships
Mr Rethus said precision agriculture has ironed out another challenge on the farm – decision making by family consensus.
"True science-based data takes the subjectivity out of decisions, which reduces conflict because you can't argue with data," he said.
"And rather than trying to make decisions when you're physically exhausted after sweating it out in the paddock all day, you can use digital tools to make them there and then."
No need to "walk alone"
The family said they see each advancement in machinery and every new technology launched by John Deere as a series of steps towards the full automation of farming, making the adoption of precision agriculture essential for the sustainability of their business.
"We need precision agriculture to beat the cost price squeeze that is reducing our profit margins in farming," Mr Rethus said.
"We're lucky to have a good working relationship with our local dealer's Precision Agriculture Manager. He knows we're up for trialling anything new.
"The technology has become very user friendly and you don't have to do it alone. John Deere will walk with you to get the most benefit out of these tools."
Learn more about how the Rethus family has embraced precision agriculture to optimise their farm business here.
About Deere & Company:
Deere & Company is a global leader in the delivery of agricultural, golf & turf, construction, and forestry equipment. We help our customers push the boundaries of what’s possible in ways that are more productive and sustainable to help life leap forward. Our technology-enabled products including the John Deere Autonomous 8R Tractor and See & Spray™ are just two of the ways we help meet the world's increasing need for food, shelter, and infrastructure. Deere & Company also provides financial services through John Deere Financial. For more information, visit John Deere at its worldwide website at JohnDeere.com or in New Zealand at JohnDeere.co.nz.