REDUCING chemical use has driven farmer Gerrit Kurstjens to seek out emerging technologies for use on his northern NSW property.
At the 10,000 ha cropping property “Beefwood” it is not uncommon to see a driverless tractor carrying out spot sprays on paddocks.
While many farmers wait until technology is tried and tested in Australian conditions, Mr Kurstjens uses his international contacts to remain on the cutting edge.
Mr Kurstjens said the initial automatic spot spraying technology based on near infrared optical sensors had been used on the property for over ten years.
“I was involved with spraying for a long time in Europe and saw that we needed truckloads of chemicals to keep the weeds under control,” he said.
“It’s very expensive, and for the long term environmental sustainability it’s not viable.”
“Spot spraying has worked extremely well.
The initial investment in the spray rig was returned within a few years by the chemical savings, he said.
While a proponent of automatic spot spraying, Mr Kurstjens said the initial technology had its drawbacks.
“Spot spraying is more labour intensive, as we have to drive more slowly,” he said.
“Also with a spray rig that is 24 metres wide in contrast to the 48 metre broadacre spray rig.”
Mr Kurstjens then began to look at other technologies in a bid to reduce labour, and while travelling in the Netherlands came across automated grass mower technology developed by Dutch company Probotiq.
Mr Kurstjens said he asked how much it would cost to build the driverless technology onto a tractor.
He said the company considered it and a deal was struck, with the technology fitted to a Fendt 936 Vario drive at “Beefwood” in 2015.
Mr Kurstjens said he believed that future environmental legislation and concerns would increase the uptake of new machinery technologies.
“My background in farming is from Europe where the environment is a big issue and regulations every year get more strict,” he said.
“Where also glyphosate is now partly forbidden.
“In the future there must be less chemicals used for farming.”
In Europe, he said, there had been a trend away from herbicide use.
In the future there must be less chemicals used for farming
Mr Kurstjens said his next step on the pathway to further reduce chemical use was to move to cutting edge technologies that could identify weeds in-crop, rather then only fallows.
“One way to do this is the 3rd generation of spot spraying,” he said.
“It is based on colour and shape detection to identify the different plants instead of infrared used currently.”