Spending $12 000 extra to buy a “smart” tractor has been a good investment for Heywood dairy farmer Michael Hawker.
With a predicted three-year payback period, fertiliser efficiencies, time savings and pasture improvements, the technology is transforming the farm.
“There was about $12 000 difference between the basic model and the top end,” Mr Hawker said. “Over the life of the tractor and the amount of fertiliser we’ll spread, that’s a good investment.”
Mr Hawker, presenting at WestVic Dairy’s Innovation Day in Warrnambool in September, said he could now cover up to 42 metres with urea.
“It equates to about 15–20 per cent saving in fertiliser use by eliminating overlap,” he said.
The spreader has weight cells to constantly calibrate the output to make sure the right amount of fertiliser is going out.
The tractor speed also adjusts to paddock conditions. “It’s all automated,” Mr Hawker said. “When I do the first lap of the paddock it gives me the boundary and then the machine turns itself on and off for the rest of the paddock.”
“It’s hands-free; all I do is turn it around at the end of the paddock.”
The spread system runs through the tractor’s GPS auto steer which holds a straight line and creates further savings.
“I’m running a subscription service which allows 6 cm of accuracy deviation. It’s good enough that I can run a seed drill at night; if I get out with a torch I can see the wheel marks are running straight on top of each other.
“It cuts down on overlap — we save about 10 per cent of seed and fertiliser doing it with GPS as opposed to doing it by eye.”
The GPS also allows night work. “It’s opened up the hours in the day we can do these things; the downside is I tend to be in the tractor a bit more after hours,” Mr Hawker said.
Communication between the GPS and the spreader is through ISOBUS. “The good thing is there’s one controller in the tractor that can control any number of implements as long as they’re ISOBUS compatible,” Mr Hawker said.
The technology is easy to use. “You could do it after 10 or 15 minutes in the tractor.”
Mr Hawker is looking to upgrade the farm’s spray unit to take advantage of new technology, and is looking to the commercial release of sensing technologies for variable rate applications based on nutrient requirements of pastures.
During the presentation dairy consultant Hugh Crockford highlighted financial benefits of “smart” tractors and Agrimac and Topcon showcased innovations available for tractors.