WA government launches online remote sensing tool for pastoral management

Farmers and graziers in Western Australia now have an online resource that can help them determine how to best manage their land.

prs2-high-resolution-imagery-screen-capture-of-total-green-biomass.png

Screen capture of a high resolution image of estimated total green biomass from the PRS application

Image: Western Australia government

The Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Landgate have jointly developed a new online pastoral remote sensing (PRS) tool designed to help local farmers and graziers make more informed decisions about land management.

The free online resource tool uses satellite imagery from NASA and the Copernicus Australasia Regional Data Hub to provide current and historical estimates of total green biomass, vegetation cover, total dry bass, and cumulative rainfall for every pastoral lease in the state.

Western Australia agriculture and food minister Alannah MacTiernaan said the modelled information can be used by pastoralists as a guide for on-ground monitoring and measurement, compare ground cover condition, and observe seasonal trends, which can then all be used to inform decisions around feed budgets and stocking rates, for instance.

"This new resource will be particularly useful in dry seasons, informing crucial stock and land management decisions to best manage the condition of both the animals and the rangelands," she said.

"This means pastoralists can be more agile in managing their operations, while optimising the condition of the rangelands according to seasonal variability."

A similar online system also exists for Queensland farmers. Called Forage, the platform was built by the Queensland government, and incorporates climate data, satellite imagery, and modelled pasture growth. 

Remote sensing technologies are increasingly being used by the agriculture sector.

For instance, Queensland-based agtech company Goanna Ag announced it was incorporating WaterWise, a Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)-developed technology, into its existing GoField irrigation management system to help growers better understand how to maximise the use of irrigation water to grow crops.

Meanwhile, one of Australia's largest horticulturist companies, Costa Group, began rolling out an artificial intelligence system at the start of last year to better understand and manage the quantity and quality of its berry crops.

The Sensing+ system, developed by Sydney-based company The Yield, has been designed to measure 14 variables of a typical agriculture model such as rain, light, wind, temperature, and soil moisture in real time. The information is then ingested into an Internet of Things platform and combined with existing data sets shared by Costa before AI is applied to create a localised prediction of each berry crop.

The system was installed within the polytunnels of Costa's eight berry farms in New South Wales, Queensland, and Tasmania.

A recent inquiry into growing Australia's agriculture sector to AU$100 billion by 2030 revealed that digital technology will be key to driving growth in Australia's agriculture.

The inquiry, conducted by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources and chaired by Liberal MP Rick Wilson, estimated that digital agriculture could add AU$20 billion to the value of the sector.

"A boost of this size would, by itself, cover the projected shortfall required to reach the AU$100 billion by 2030 target," the Growing Australia report [PDF] said.

Updated Friday 23 April 2021, 1:17pm (AEST): Added detail about Queensland government's Forage.

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