Cotton Young Farming Champion Casey Onus takes farming technology into the classroom

Keeping up with the ever-changing world of technology is often a challenge but Cotton Young Farming Champion Casey Onus is keeping cotton farmers abreast of changes in big data and farm-based technology such as drones.

“Big data is basically a fancy term for collecting all the information that comes off your farm,” Casey says. “Collecting big data enables us to make smarter decisions about where we spend our money and where it is going to have the most impact, and also allows us to pick up problems in paddocks that we can then rectify.”

The simplest example of big data is yield information. Data can be collected straight off the header and processed into paddock images. It can also be combined with satellite imagery such as NDVI (normalised difference vegetation index), allowing management plans to be made of paddocks, which in turn can lead to more targeted application of inputs such as fertiliser.

“Big data helps to make the agricultural industry as a whole more efficient,” Casey says. “By monitoring and collecting various forms of on-farm data we can really tweak efficiencies. This enables us to minimise the overuse of fertilisers and other products, and responsibly manage our environmental impact well into the future. It also aids biosecurity. When the Russian Weed Aphid came in and caused problems for the grain industry, it could actually be mapped across a geographical area from advisors scouting using some of these big data programs. If all of these programs talk to each other you can literally map that across Australia. And that’s huge. That gives potential to know what is happening at any given point in time and allows us to react accordingly.”

Although Casey believes satellite imagery and big data remain more economical for large-scale crops, she knows smaller technology such as drones has multiple uses on the farm from stock scouting in rugged terrain to monitoring water troughs and weed populations. At the recent Tocal Field Days she took drone technology to interested members of the public. “We set up a drone simulator on the big screen in the Hunter Local Land Services’ tent to encourage people to come and ask their questions about using drones on farm and to have a go at flying before they make the investment to get one,” she says. “The drone simulator was quite popular, especially with the school kids on the Friday, but we had quite a lot of landowners come with questions about CASA rules, utilising drones on-farm in their individual situations and even questions from people who had already purchased a drone but didn’t quite have the confidence to fly it yet.”

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Casey will continue the story of cotton and technology as she goes into schools as part of this year’s Art4Agriculture The Archibull Prize. Working with students from Oxley High School, Irrawang High School, Raymond Terrace Public School and Muswellbrook High she will help foster relationships between the community and the Cotton industry.

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