Tech­nol­ogy and farm­ing

Euroa Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - By WILL MUR­RAY

A BUSI­NESS in the shire is at the fore­front of new farm tech­nolo­gies.

Phil Whit­ten’s ‘Farm­ing Man­age­ment So­lu­tions’ (FMS) on Rail­way Street rep­re­sents not only a busi­ness that is look­ing to cap­i­talise on new tech­nolo­gies and web-based ap­pli­ca­tions that are revolutionising the farm­ing in­dus­try, but also the new op­por­tu­ni­ties the in­ter­net age to de­cen­tralise the busi­ness com­mu­nity.

Away from Melbourne’s CBD, com­pa­nies like Phil’s are able to set up and thrive, be­cause the need to be phys­i­cally close to ev­ery­thing else is being rapidly eroded in the in­ter­net age.

It is this prin­ci­ple that forms the ba­sis of what FMS does.

To look through the front win­dow and into the fairly empty room with a few so­lar-pow­ered gad­gets against the glass of­fers few clues as to what FMS ac­tu­ally does.

There’s not much in the way of ‘nor­mal of­fice stuff’.

That’s be­cause Phil op­er­ates a busi­ness that can be largely run on the screen of his smart­phone.

From that screen Phil can mon­i­tor the nearly 50 prop­er­ties that in­clude cat­tle sta­tions in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory, cot­ton grow­ers in west­ern NSW, and prop­er­ties on the York Penin­sula, SA - as well as farms in the Goul­burn Val­ley- that use his equip­ment.

You see FMS deals in agri­cul­tural teleme­try.

In sim­pler terms, this means the pro­vi­sion of farm mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment that gathers in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing a prop­erty and sends it to the ‘cloud’ (on­line data­base) where it can be viewed, and ac­tions taken ac­cord­ingly, from home.

The data and con­trol that can be ac­cessed via the web-based sys­tem is im­mense.

The mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment FMS pro­vides can tell landown­ers how much wa­ter is in their tanks, troughs or dams; pro­vide in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing soil mois­ture; au­to­mat­i­cally con­trol ir­ri­ga­tion and wa­ter­ing; and en­able ab­sen­tee farm­ers to see what is go­ing on through video and pho­to­graphic record­ing.

It also logs data that can be used to make fu­ture predictions as to the be­hav­iour of crops un­der cer­tain con­di­tions, and en­able pro­duc­ers to adopt more pre­cise farm­ing prac­tices based on the in­for­ma­tion avail­able.

Phil set up the busi­ness in Euroa in April 2015, and said the abil­ity to mon­i­tor the go­ings on of the farm from off-site opens up a new world of pos­si­bil­i­ties for pro­duc­ers.

“The sys­tem makes farm­ing more at­trac­tive to those put off by the labour-in­ten­sive and com­pletely full time na­ture of the job,” Phil said.

“Hav­ing the mon­i­tor­ing sys­tems in­stalled means that peo­ple no longer have to live on their prop­er­ties 24/7.

“In­stead they can man­age mul­ti­ple prop­er­ties, or one nowhere near their place of res­i­dence, be­cause the sys­tem takes so many of the mun­dane and time-con­sum­ing tasks out of farm­ing.”

Per­haps, they can even take a day off ev­ery now and then- some­thing many are cur­rently un­able to do.

“Most im­por­tantly”, Phil said. “This highly so­phis­ti­cated equip­ment turns old style farm­ing into pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture, which saves money, time and is good for the en­vi­ron­ment.”

“I have a sys­tem in­stalled at Plun­kett’s Win­ery for ex­am­ple. By hav­ing that in­for­ma­tion sent through to them that tells op­er­a­tors what the soil mois­ture lev­els are, a de­tailed anal­y­sis of the weather con­di­tions the crop is ex­posed to, they are able to con­trol just how much wa­ter they need, or soil ad­di­tives to use, to man­u­fac­ture a good vin­tage.

“By no longer just go­ing off a pre­de­ter­mined wa­ter­ing sched­ule, and tak­ing some of the ‘guess work’ out of manag­ing their crop, they are get­ting better yields, re­duc­ing runoff of chem­i­cals into wa­ter­ways, and sav­ing them­selves time and money by set­ting up an au­to­matic sys­tem.”

Phil be­lieves that the sys­tems are ad­van­ta­geous to those look­ing to sell their prop­erty, or are in the mar­ket to buy.

“You’re no longer look­ing at a very small buy­ers’ mar­ket, be­cause you no longer have to ap­peal only to those who live lo­cally, or look at lo­cal prop­er­ties to in­vest in, be­cause you no longer have to live where you work.”

FMS is a busi­ness that con­tin­ues to grow.

“We re­cently won the ten­der to a prop­erty in Queens­land called Spy­glass Beef Re­search Sta­tion, a re­search and de­vel­op­ment farm that con­cen­trates on demon­strat­ing best­prac­tice to other farms,” he said.

“The farm is over 200 square kilo­me­tres, which isn’t mas­sive, but they can have all their 25 wa­ter points mon­i­tored from the sta­tion. So in­stead of hav­ing to head out ev­ery cou­ple of days to check wa­ter lev­els they can do it from home.

“We also have peo­ple who spend much of their work­ing life over­seas, who can still man­age much of the day-to-day op­er­a­tions of their farms from out of coun­try.”

This is an ex­cit­ing new field for young kids com­ing through to get into, with agri­cul­tural tech­nol­ogy iden­ti­fied as one of the boom­ing in­dus­tries in the next decade.

“The great thing about this kind of stuff is that I can live here in Euroa,” he said.

“You don’t have to move away to be in­volved in this any­more. As long as you have a good re­la­tion­ship with sup­pli­ers and sub­con­trac­tors you can run web-based pro­grams from your com­puter any­where”

“I love being able to live and work here in Euroa. Why wouldn’t you? It’s a great town, close to my farm in Ruffy, and be­sides, the rent’s much cheaper here than on Spring Street.”

PHOTO: Will Mur­ray

LEAD­ING THE WAY: Phil Whit­ten’s ‘Farm­ing Man­age­ment So­lu­tions’ in Rail­way Street, Euroa, is at the fore­front of new farm­ing tech­nolo­gies look­ing to change the way we view agri­cul­ture.

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