Two South Australian farming brothers use data to drive all their important cropping decisions - even the extremely tough ones.
Last winter Scott Clark, who farms with his brother, Luke, decided to cut a substantial proportion of what should have been a high-quality grain crop for hay after a period of relentless frosts.
It was a far from ideal result for a grains enterprise but one which allowed losses to be minimised under challenging conditions and to set a strong foundation for what was forecast to be a more fruitful season in 2020.
Mr Clark said while the bite of harsh weather can never be fully avoided in farming, having as much data as possible on hand does help to inform decisions that can soften financial impacts.
"We call it a running growth margin," Mr Clark said.
The brothers farm 1680 hectares near Jamestown in the Mid North Region of SA.
"As a season is progressing we like to look at really strong data, including our predicted potential yield, and how it compares to the data we had at the same time in previous years - and make decisions based on that.
"We are not a massive farm for our area, only mid-sized really, so we have to work to make sure every post is a winner."
And it is this flow of good quality data throughout the Clarks' operation - from the soil right through to the where key decisions are made in the office - which underlies their information-led farming approach.
Data is collected and collated through a combination of weather stations and moisture probes across the property before being integrated with comprehensive historical farm records.
Additional real-time field data is also sent from the Clarks' John Deere equipment to the John Deere Operations Center through Data Sync (via JDLink) to track key factors impacting on yield and inputs and to know exactly what is being spent per hectare.
From there Mr Clark combines the weather and field insights using information from the Agworld platform, one of the software companies the operations centre can work with to help customers maximise production and profitability through precision agriculture.
"Both of our tractors are equipped with a modem (JDLink) so we are able to send information direct to the operations centre and into Agworld to immediately know where we are at," he said.
"In the case of last year, this allowed us to determine exactly when we were going to run out of moisture and how things were positioned, so that it was then much easier to make an informed decision about what to do so that we could earn some return, even when the conditions were against us.
"This sort of information is not only vital for us to evaluate whether to harvest crops or cut them for hay as we had to in 2019 but also for looking forward and knowing what is making money and what isn't."
This is also the type of data which will guide the Clarks through the 2020 season which, after seeding in late May, is off to a strong start following a three-year dry spell from 2017 to 2019.
The Clarks' property, which also includes 900 sheep, has been seeded to a roughly 25 per cent split of wheat, barley canola and faba beans and Mr Clark is hopeful of a bright harvest given the moisture his monitoring has shown is available in the soil.
"This season is tracking well and we've already had more rain over most of the property this season than we did for the entirety of last year," he said.
"My Dad used to always do 2.5 tonnes per hectare yield but over the last 10 years, up until the dry in 2017 any way, we were able to grow that to 3.2 tonnes per hectare, so with the moisture that is available things are looking good at this point."
Using the John Deere operations centre and Agworld, seeding has also become a more exact science with the data available allowing the Clarks to break down soil moisture and potential yield on a zonal basis across individual paddocks.
"When you have good testing and data you can be really targeted and much more wise with how you spend because you know the paddocks where you are in a position to chase higher yields and which paddocks you are better off to just shut the gate on," Mr Clark said.
"We're also inputting a lot of data into the operations centre to guide our use of a variable rate of gypsum and lime with our variable rate controllers instead of blanket applications."
And, looking ahead to next season, the Clarks will also have a boosted John Deere equipment lineup including a just-ordered 8RT 370 tractor to join their S660 combine harvester, 8225R tractor, 1890 air hoe drill, 1910 seeding cart, R4038 self-propelled sprayer and integrated John Deere precision agriculture technology.
"This tractor is the last piece of the puzzle for now and means each of our machines will have Generation 3 or 4 monitors to assist in better automation which is particularly assisting the overall productivity of our operation."
"One of our main goals is to be more efficient, sustainable and to improve water use so that we've got a place that is in good stead for the next generation and this automation really helps us to move towards that."
The story Data drives cropping decisions on South Australian grain farm first appeared on Farm Online.