Winds of change for one small farming community


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Weather station at Woorak

For two decades the Woorak Community and Land Management Group has struggled with understanding and managing the large variations in traditional seasonal conditions. Isolated by their location in the Northern Wimmera, about 1.5 hours from the South Australian border, the group seized the opportunity of the Producer Technology Uptake Program to install and trial soil moisture probes and weather stations over a 30km radius of their hall 

Located in and around Nhill, in the northern Wimmera Victoria, the Woorak Community and Land Management Group have often suffered the effects of isolation. As a broadacre cropping group with limited or no access to localised data, the group consistently struggled to understand and manage variations in seasonal conditions. This variability has presented many challenges for the group, including extended dry times, but also opportunity with unseasonal storm events depositing large amounts of moisture. Up until now, the group have relied on weather and rainfall data from either Nhill, Rainbow or Warracknabeal to manage this, which is often not representative of conditions on the ground. 

In 2021, Matt Rohde, on behalf of the Woorak Community and Land Management Group, applied for the pilot round of the Producer Technology Uptake Program. Through a co-contribution model with producer members in the area, the group embarked on a project to install and trial soil moisture probes and weather stations over a 30km radius of their local hall. The data from these trials is collated into a dashboard and shared with contributing members of the community group to demonstrate the benefits of this type of data for improved decision making.  

Recent examples of this data used in practice includes improved spraying decisions based off wind speed, direction and delta T data. 

The sensor network also provides value at harvest time for monitoring safe local working conditions, with the development of a tailored map underway to show real time fire danger ratings across the trial sites.  

As more data is collected, the incorporation of local soil moisture into Water Use Efficiency calculators will be possible for input adjustments to close yield gaps, optimising sowing and nutrition decisions based on soil moisture. 

“Installing this weather station network has raised far greater awareness of localised conditions for spraying,” said Woorak Community and Land Management Group member Matt Rohde.  

“Previously, weather data for the area has come from towns 30-50km away. It hasn’t always been accurate and often you went out into the paddock you experience different conditions which can pose great risk to neighbouring crops. 

“The ability to know exactly what conditions will be like in the area we are working has positively influenced decision making for our operation. Having the knowledge and data has not only impacted our farming operations, but more importantly has improved the safety conditions of the work we are carrying out.”

An important focus for the group in undertaking this project was to ensure that peer learning was incorporated along the way. This has included both the broader member base, but also local enablers such as agronomists and consultants. A key outcome of this approach has been the additional uptake and purchase of technology by growers who were not directly involved in the initial trial set up.  

“I had always planned to install a weather station and soil probe on my property, and when a few other members showed interest, the program really kicked off,” said Matt.  

“What I didn’t expect was for the program to grow as much as it has. The initial funding has set us up with five weather stations and nine soil moisture probes which have been co-funded by the members putting them on their properties. Within 12 months of operating we now have 17 weather stations and 25 moisture probes installed across the district, with another two stations recently approved for installation. This has resulted in a massive data set that is directly benefiting our member group.  

“One factor that’s really helped uptake of the project from other members has been the incentive of access to the full network data when installing their own site. This provides members with so much more value for decision making than installing a single site independently. 

The demonstration of direct benefit to growers in the region, through the sharing of the data within the group, has allowed growers to utilise the data in their own business operations. This has in turn built their understanding of the value information like this has in decision making.  

Since the trial began in June 2021 there are 16 growers on board along with one agribusiness, bringing the total sites engaged in the project to 17, with an additional $120,000 invested into this technology by the group and its members.  

Ulicia Raufers, Program Manager for the Producer Technology Program is thrilled with the success of the program for the group to date.  

“This is exactly the type of outcome we hope to see through this program – producers identifying where there is opportunity for operational improvements in their business and then using technology to address this.  

“The grants really provide the opportunity for the producer groups to identify their existing barriers to adopting these types of technology, in this case understanding the value proposition, and then design a project to overcome this, like this try, test and learn model,” said Ulicia.  

The Producer Technology Uptake Program has recently closed Round 3 and has approximately 600 producers directly participating, and in excess of 2,500 producers indirectly involved through extension outcomes.  


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