Expanding Precision Ag Network puts farmers in driver’s seat
Precision agriculture has been a game-changer for Australian farmers but it’s only as good as the network it’s connected to, a challenge one agricultural machinery dealer has taken head-on. O’Connors is fast becoming one of the leaders in Precision Agriculture hardware sales and support, with a rapidly expanding RTK Network of reference stations, the largest in the southern hemisphere and one that is now available to growers in the Corowa area.
Accuracy is key
The advent of precision agriculture technologies, with that of the RTK Networks, has changed the face of farming, but as O’Connors’ group Precision Ag manager Phil Streeter emphasises, the technology is all for nothing without an accurate and reliable radio network to support it.
“The RTK network is the best there is and represents a huge investment by O’Connors, but that outlay means the greatest benefits for our customers,” he said.
O’Connors – which has Case IH dealerships across three states – began rolling out its network of base stations 10 years ago in Victoria’s Wimmera/Mallee area, with 13 towers by the end of 2007. That grew to 35 the following year as the network expanded its footprint into the Goulburn Valley and has continued to grow ever since.
At the beginning of 2017 there were 113 bases, but this month’s launch of the Corowa network means that total will eventually rise to about 130. This month alone as many as seven new towers have been added to the network.
Phil said the inclusion of the Corowa region was customer-driven – the motivation behind the initial launch of the network a decade ago.
“The feedback we were getting from customers was they wanted somewhere that served as a one-stop shop – they were saying we want to come in, buy our tractors and purchase our guidance all from the one place, and that place can then service it and look after it for us,” he said.
O’Connors has been in the precision ag game since 2004, and at that time Phil said many of their customers were looking at RTK, and were forced in some cases to buy their own base stations – not ideal both from either a financial, or logistical, standpoint.
“You need to know what you’re doing with this technology in order to get the most out of it and have it working at peak efficiency. So that’s where we’re coming from – we specialise in this technology and the network – we install it and we maintain it,” Phil said.
“And we realised it was a huge expense for farmers having to invest in their own base stations – we knew there had to be a better way, and there was.”
O’Connors RTK Network
Phil said O’Connors’ RTK Network was the “latest and greatest” – with clients never more than 15km away from a base, throughout the network, and all bases fully surveyed, providing the peace-of-mind for growers that map lines won’t move, even if the signal is switched between towers.
Accuracy, too, is key, and for O’Connors’ network that means the highest accuracy currently available: no more than 2.5cm, 95% per cent of the time.
For local farmer Stephen Hallam, whose family business has properties around Hopetoun & also south of Horsham, that assurance has increased the productivity and efficiency of the operation and he couldn’t imagine farming any other way.
“O’Connors have been unreal and that’s what sold us – they sat down with us and outlined what they could do and we haven’t looked back. The reliability of the network is unbelievable and if ever we do have an issue – which I have to say is incredibly rare – Phil’s straight onto it and you’re going again before you know it,” he said.
“I’ve got a mate who uses another product and he looks at this one and can’t believe how reliable it is.”
The Hallams have a set-up with 2cm accuracy, something they appreciate now they’ve started inter-row sowing.
“We’re putting our seed in the ground a whole lot neater and you see the results in the crop.”
Steve says they purchased two systems initially, switching them between sowing tractors, harvesters or boom sprayers as required, but the results they’ve achieved have encouraged them to invest in more systems over time to ensure each of their machines is ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Phil acknowledges the RTK network is a big investment, but one that underlines O’Connors’ commitment to its customers, and which is attracting new business every week.
“Clients appreciate we offer everything they need under the one roof,” he says. “We have customers who didn’t own one bit of Case IH gear, but came to us for their guidance, and now they only have red machinery. They like that they can do everything with us and that any help they may need is only a phone call away.”