In everyday life, loyalty is something most people boast about.
But when it comes to machinery for his family’s broadacre cropping enterprise, Derek Tiller has no allegiance to any brand.
Farming 3500 hectares with co-manager and brother Clinton at Pinery, South Australia, under the business Pinery Grain Growers, Derek grows wheat, lentils, barley, canola, chickpeas and faba beans.
Their machinery shed is a menagerie of brands: a brand new Claas Lexion 780 harvester on tracks; a Challenger MT865E on tracks for seeding and mother bin duties; a Massey Ferguson 8690 for rolling, spreading and pulling the chaser bin at harvest; and an Agrifac Condor Endurance self-propelled sprayer.
“We don’t have any loyalty to a particular machinery brand,” Derek says.
“When we are upgrading machinery, we like to pick the best machine that’s available at the time which will help us to increase efficiency and maximise our expansion potential with the labour we’ve got.”
In a modern farming system where GPS is the norm and precision agriculture is becoming more and more popular, the Tillers’ no-loyalty approach could present some challenges in factory monitors and GPS technology not “talking” to each other and making data collection difficult.
However, the Tillers have found a way around that problem by fitting Ag Leader equipment to all of their machinery.
Derek says the Ag Leader products “fit anything” and work well across all of their machinery.
They have used both InCommand 1200 and Integra monitors in their machinery. The InCommand 1200 screen in the sprayer is linked to OptRx sensors, also from Ag Leader, which are fitted to the boom. These sensors monitor the bulk density of crops throughout the growing season while applying herbicides, fungicides or insecticides and generate normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) maps to help the Tillers make management decisions, particularly in regard to nitrogen.
“For example, we had an issue in 2016 with some sodic soil that was affecting our lentils,” Derek says.
“The soil had become slightly acidic and waterlogged and lentils don’t enjoy waterlogging at all.
“We were seeing yellowing in the crop and were able to monitor it with the OptRx sensors throughout the year as we sprayed it and recorded maps with the sensors then correlated it at harvest with our yield maps.
“After harvest, we’ll be able to go back and pinpoint those areas in the paddock and treat them accordingly.”
Derek says yield maps need to be cross-referenced against other data to ensure accuracy and the OptRx sensors have helped them do that.
“It’s not an extra job, you can just switch the sensors on when you start spraying,” he says.
“That data can overlay your yield map and you get to understand the yield correlation with the bulk density of the crop.
“Not only can we identify problem areas, but also quantify and realise what part and how much of that paddock is affected by whatever the problem could be and then revisit that with more specific testing of the soils or crop.”
During the 2016-17 harvest the Tillers also trialled another Ag Leader product, DisplayCast.
This software connects each display wirelessly so data can be shared easily between the InCommand monitors without the need for carrying maps on USB drives.
For instance, while the Claas is harvesting, the yield data from the machine is uploaded into the cloud enabling the chaser bin driver in the Massey Ferguson to see the same data in real time.
“That helps all the machinery operators to understand what parts of the paddock are performing well as we are going,” Derek says.
“We’re all making decisions about agronomy here so it’s good to have everyone seeing what’s happening out in the field all the time.”
Derek sees data as an invaluable tool in helping to make better management decision throughout the season.
“We are building a case file for each of our paddocks with all the data we are collecting, which is specific to different areas of the paddock,” he says.
“If there is an issue that comes up in the future, we can use that data we’ve generated to aid in our decision making.
“That in itself can help use to increase our efficiency and potentially lower our cost of production.”