Students take precision agriculture research results to NZ

Published 29 June 2012

biomassThree Honours students from the University of New England are heading to New Zealand for the 2012 Australian and New Zealand Spatially Enabled Livestock Management (SELM) Symposium.

The students – Mark Yerbury, Joshua Barron and Samantha Anderson – are going to Lincoln University to present findings from the research projects they have been working on for the past six months within UNE’s Precision Agriculture Research Group.

Mark Yerbury (originally from Temora) is studying at UNE for a degree in Rural Science and has been investigating variability in the wool production of sheep, their worm burden, and – using GPS tracking collars – their spatial use of pasture. “The goal of my research is to try and find a link between where animals graze and the worm burdens that they develop,” he said. “If we can figure this out we may be able to help producers manage their grazing country to reduce parasite infestation and increase weight gains and wool growth.”

Josh Barron (from Cooma, NSW), also a Rural Science student at UNE, has been investigating the spatial variability of key soil nutrients across grazing paddocks, and correlating these “nutrient maps” with data on the animals in those paddocks (derived from GPS tracking), and the pastures and soils in them (collected through the use of electronic sensors). “I’m trying to determine which common precision-agriculture sensors are best able to predict the distribution of soil nutrients,” he said. “If we can work this out we could be able to help graziers start thinking about variable-rate fertiliser application for their pastures – something that has been successfully implemented in the cropping industry.”

Sam Anderson (originally from Hamilton, Victoria) is studying for a degree in Agriculture at Melbourne University and has undertaken a cross-institutional enrolment at UNE. She is investigating the potential for site-specific management of nitrogen fertiliser in improved pastures at a sub-paddock scale. “We already know that there is a lot of variability in pasture production across grazing paddocks,” she said. “What I’m looking at is the potential for various parts of a paddock to respond differently to increasing nitrogen rates. The early results are really interesting, with some zones of the paddock showing more than double the pasture growth per unit of nitrogen compared to others. We’ve got a lot more analysis to do, but this could really help graziers lift the efficiency of their fertiliser use.”

Mark Yerbury’s research is funded by a scholarship from the Australian Wool Education Trust, and Joshua Barron and Samantha Anderson have received travel scholarships from the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information to attend the 2012 SELM Symposium.

Dr Mark Trotter, the Research Lecturer in Precision Agriculture at UNE, is supervising the project of all three students. “This is a great opportunity for them to talk in front of the leading researchers in the field of spatial and precision livestock management,” Dr Trotter said. “They will also learn a lot from the event. They really are the future leaders of our grazing industries, and even now they are doing leading research that the livestock sector is going to need to lift productivity in the coming years.”

The 2012 Spatially Enabled Livestock Management Symposium is being held at Lincoln University, Christchurch, on the 6th of July. This symposium brings together leading researchers from across Australia, New Zealand and the world to discuss the latest in spatial technologies and precision livestock and pasture management technologies.

Clicking on the precision-agriculture-derived image above reveals a photograph of (from left) Dr Mark Trotter, Mark Yerbury, Joshua Barron and Samantha Anderson.