Budget 2018 satellite funding to help improve on-farm accuracy and efficiency

Chris Morshead is pleased with a boost to GPS technology in the federal budget. Picture: Anthony Stipo
Chris Morshead is pleased with a boost to GPS technology in the federal budget. Picture: Anthony Stipo

Farmers have welcomed a $260 million investment in GPS and satellite technology, which they say will boost crop yields and efficiency.

The funding, outlined in Tuesday’s federal budget, provides a GPS upgrade that will improve accuracy from five metres to 10 centimetres across the country.

Precision farming specialist Thane Pringle said it would allow for greater precision on the land that would deliver a big benefit.

“It comes down to overlap, in a sense, you have to cover the same bit of ground a little with each pass (when sowing or harvesting) to make sure you don’t miss sections of a field,” Mr Pringle said. “If you can get that down to centimetre-accuracy, you save on chemicals, fertiliser and fuel, you also get an advantage from being done quicker and it can have quite a big economic impact. It’s a little thing that has a big flow-on effect.”

In the past, farmers have had to spend tens of thousands of dollars on specialist equipment to get the kind of accuracy that will soon be available from the sky. The greater accuracy also meant less compaction of soil, Mr Pringle said, which could also lead to better crop yields.

For rice grower Chris Morshead, the upgrades would “almost certainly” be beneficial.

“The satellite imaging over the past 10 years has resulted in a tangible increase in our yields and improvements in profit – we’re getting more tonnes out of the same dirt,” Mr Morshead said. “It’s all about knowing where you are, a difference of five metres can make a huge difference if you’re looking to track down issues you’ve found with aerial photography. We use Google Maps on our phones all the time to work out where things should go, or get an idea of what to do.”

The $260 million will be split between the satellite-based augmentation system for GPS ($161 million), the national positioning infrastructure ($64 million) and technology called “Digital Earth Australia” ($36.9 million), which provides access to satellite data.

However, Mr Morshead joined a chorus of voices asking why the federal government had not increased funding to fix mobile phone blackspots in the budget.

“Phone reception is a bit of a drama, if you can’t get service in the right place you could keel over,” Mr Morshead said. “People spend a lot of time by themselves in big, heavy machinery, sometimes in the dark, that continual improvement in mobile coverage is certainly of utmost importance.

Resources Minister Matt Canavan said the funding would also help boost other sectors, such as mining, transport, construction and aviation.

“Our investment in this world-standard technology will have direct benefits,” Mr Canavan said.