Smart farmers

Expert view

This SA farmer sees precision farming become the norm

One of the first adopters of precision farming in South Africa explains how technology first seen on his farm more than 20 years ago has become the norm. In fact, a local seeder manufacturer is now exporting to Australia.

Kosie Loubser. Photo credit: Ruben van der Merwe

Kosie Loubser. Photo credit: Ruben van der Merwe

Kosie Loubser is the third generation of his family to farm Altona in the Koeberg district of the Western Cape, about 30km north of Cape Town. Mr Loubser currently grows 1,600ha of wheat, in a rotation with 450ha of canola and 120ha of lupins.

He tells me that the first experience he had of precision agriculture was in 1995, when the University of Cape Town experimented with yield monitors on the farm’s combines. He remembers the cab of the combine being just a tangle of wires and meters.

Financially feasible

Mr Loubser says at that time it appeared the systems that became known as “precision farming” would never be financially feasible. However, Altona farm has mainly John Deere tractors and equipment and was an early customer for John Deere Greenstar guidance systems and Agricultural Management Solutions (AMS) and this provided the impetus for change.

Mr Loubser says it seems incredible something that looked so advanced then is now quite commonplace and he feels these days it would be impossible to have a viable farming operation without the help of all the systems he now employs.

These include guidance systems, crop monitoring, variable rate control on his John Deere self-propelled sprayer and Amazone fertiliser spreader, seven-section control on the sprayer and 16-section control on the Amazone spreader.

Fertiliser savings with precision farming

Mr Loubser estimates the savings in fertiliser alone on his operation will pay for the Amazone ZA TS spreader in less than two years. Using the crop yield maps generated by the monitors on the combines, he has the soils in the underyielding areas analysed and makes the necessary adjustments to the amount of fertiliser spread on the relevant areas.

His calculations show that in the past, some areas were up to 25% overfertilised. He believes his rates are now no more than 3-5% adrift from the optimum. In the meantime, wheat yields have increased to average 4t/ha, a creditable result for an area with an average annual rainfall of 420mm.

Photo credit: Ruben van der Merwe

Photo credit: Ruben van der Merwe

So far he has not applied variable seeding rates, as the DBX AusPlow air seeders he is currently using also apply the pre-emergence spray and it would be difficult vary the seed rates without affecting the efficacy of the spray. The seeders are locally assembled versions of an Australian design.

It is interesting to note that a local manufacturer now exports South African-designed planters to Australia.