Applying cropping technology to pasture

Jack England

Jack England

The livestock industry had much to learn from the precision agriculture (PA) and variable rate technology (VRT) long been used by the cropping industry to enhance productivity, a Nuffield scholar says.

2016 Nuffield Scholar Jack England has identified a number of clear opportunities for the integration of these systems across livestock businesses with potential to improve both efficiency and environmental outcomes.

Mr England, who manages his family’s 3200 hectare mixed sheep, beef and cropping property near Kingston South East in South Australia, went to the United Kingdom, Israel, New Zealand and Australia to discuss the use of VRT with cropping and horticultural specialists, researchers and livestock producers.

Mr England said livestock producers acknowledged that the cropping sector has enjoyed enormous efficiency and productivity gains using PA and VRT but were reluctant to apply the same technology to pasture.

“Society is also quite rightly demanding strong agricultural nutrient run-off restrictions, and this fits with the social expectations that we create more efficient, yet profitable livestock farming systems by making better use of most macro fertiliser nutrients, water and arable land,” he said.

Mr England’s research led to a suite of recommendations based on soil science, plant monitoring and better understanding the relationship between animal behavior and nutrient removal.

These include the adoption of farm management software, use of spatial tools such as yield and topographical maps to identify variations in paddocks and biomass, fertiliser application based on zoning and the objective measurement of treatment responses.