How we used elevation data to pinpoint frost damage for strategic hay cutting
Todd Orrock alongside his wife Brooke and his mother Karen, run a 2400 Hectare crop enterprise in the Upper North of South Australia. This family run enterprise also known as Orrock Farming, focuses on producing Cereal, Pulses, Canola and Hay. When he's not helping run Orrock Farming, Todd also runs a contract spreading and spraying business.
On top of these operations, Todd Beta tests TopCon's latest software before release as he has a keen interest in Precision Ag Hardware. More recently he's taken an interest in his mapping software as an overall capability of his equipment. Todd has been capturing information such as yield, crop spec imagery, and protein from his machines for many seasons and he's now beginning to add satellite imagery , drone imagery and some soil layers such as EM 38.
Over the last 18 months Todd has been able to find real practical uses for his map layers such as variable rate input decisions to find solutions for crop management issues, an example of which is outlined below:
Todd has had a known frost issue on his property in one particular block at Murray Town which he knew was due to elevation. Year on year, the frost hung in low lying parts of the property causing significant damage and profit loss.
After being hit with frost again in 2019 (which was also shaping up to be a significant drought) Todd was keen to find a solution to salvage the profit from his grain crop.
Todd reached out and started a discussion with Breezy Hill Precision Ag Services around his observation of frost and was suspicious that elevation was the spatial driver of frost damage. Through our consultation we outlined the 'next steps' to solve this problem.
From the data that Todd gathered over the years, we were able to input this into the PCT AgCloud software which cleaned and compiled data from all those years. From this software we created an Elevation Map and we compared this to historical yield maps that we had previously built in the same PCT AgCloud software. He involved his agronomist to assess the front damage to make sure that the extent of the frost matched the Elevation Map.
Once confident that the elevation map was an accurate indicator, we created a hay cutting prescription for him to import into his contractors TopCon display in his hay cutter. This allowed him to accurately patch out frosted crop to turn into hay. The unaffected crop was left to be harvested later in the year.
After Todd reached out for an initial consult to layout his frost damage problem with his agronomist and us here at Breezy Hill Precision Ag Services, we were able to quickly devise a plan of attack.
We went through Todd's yield Map archives to look at the pattern of yield damage every season which always occurred in the north west low laying side. From here, we produced an elevation map which was given to Todd and his agronomist as a KMZ file. This meant that he could overlay it in Google Maps and crop scale the field and make his frost damage assessments.
We then built a prescription map which acted as a geo-referenced guide which Todd could instantly upload into his hay cutter. Using RTK GPS we knew that the hay cutter was cutting within a 2cm accuracy around the affected area which is a far more precise result than guessing where the frost damage is by eye.
From the combination of elevation, yield and satellite imagery, Todd was able to salvage an average of 2-3t/ha grain yield in a portion of the paddock and saleable hay in the frosted section. This was a significant gross margin improvement when compared to the alternative of harvesting the entire field. PCT AgCloud data was able to give Todd this insight into the extent of how frost was impacting his yield and ultimately, his bottom line.
This is just one practical example of how to spatially pinpoint an agronomic issue and make a practical and profitable decision as a result. As Todd said, 'with the standing frosted crop as it was, if we had harvested it as originally planned we would have been losing money. The hay solution made this paddock profitable!'