WHEN Don and Colleen Costello, managers of one of the largest Angus beef operations in Australia, send their bore runners out to check the waters, they are often faced with a 400km round trip.
But recently introduced water monitoring technology across their aggregation of four Alice Springs district properties has consigned the need for many of these bore runs to history.
They estimate the return on the investment in water monitoring technology is as little as 12 months.
The Costello & Oldfield families run Crown Point Pastoral Co, a 28,000sq km certified Organic grazing operation south of near Alice Springs. Included are four adjoining cattle stations, Lilla Creek, Horseshoe Bend, New Crown and Andado, running around 30,000 head of mostly Angus cattle.
About 90 percent of the annual turnoff is sold to Australian Meat Group in Victoria as Certified Organic grassfed slaughter cattle.
Give the scale and distances involved in Crown Point’s operations, one of the major challenges for the management team has always been the vast distances that must be covered by Crown Point staff each day, in checking water tanks, troughs and dams.
Colleen Costello said it was a field day held in Alice Springs several years ago that initially attracted the interest of their son and daughter and their families to the Farmbot monitoring technology.
“They more or less drove the next phase,” she said.
First installations of Farmbot units took place under a trial 18 months ago, with seven or eight units installed on remote waters on each of the four properties.
“They worked really well, and we could see the benefits more or less straight away,” Mrs Costello said.
Crown Point Pastoral has now installed 85 Farmbot units across its country. Each device monitors a water tank or dam, serviced by either a mono or solar pump. These deliver real-time, event-driven reports when they detect abnormal behaviour, such as when the water level falls too quickly (potential damage to a pipe), rises too quickly (an animal may have potentially fallen into a trough), or stops moving altogether (an issue with a pump).
Most of the aggregation’s watering points – especially those further distant from the homestead, are now monitored using the devices.
With scope to further develop outlying areas on the properties with further water improvements – especially on New Crown and Andado – new bores and watering points continue to be installed, mostly in more distant parts of the holdings. They will also be equipped with Farmbot monitoring systems, as part of the infrastructure plan.
Alerts are sent via satellite link to a mobile device, with data also able to be captured and used to understand more about water storage and collection on-farm.
Technology “changes relationship between time and water”
Mrs Costello said the Farmbot technology had “changed Crown Point’s relationship with time and water.”
“As a beef producer, there are two resources that we always need more of: water and time. Farmbot gives us both,” she said.
“With real-time alerts, we no longer have to send runners out to check all our tanks and dams ‘just in case’ there is an issue. Now, we know within the minute whether a pump has broken, a beast has fallen into a trough, or if there are any issues with our water tanks. And when there is an issue, we can mobilise our team immediately to fix it, knowing there is a problem. It gives us priceless peace of mind,” she said.
“It helps us manage what we have more effectively.”
Mrs Costello said having done some calculations, the investment in complete coverage of Crown Point’s water receptacles across the properties, had essentially created at least ‘one whole new day’s worth’ of time each week, on account of not having to spend time traversing the country simply monitoring waters.
The huge weekly time saving on bore runs simply for monitoring purposes is now used in other ways.
“Of course we still have to do a bore run at least once each week to get our ‘eyes on the ground’, but not physically checking waters as much as we previously did has freed up staff considerably, allowing us to spend that time on maintenance, new fences or all the little jobs that just seem to pile up on a place of this size,” she said.
As well as providing time savings, the use of Farmbots was also making the business more profitable and ultimately more sustainable, she said.
“Travelling 400km every other day to check on water tanks is not only time consuming, but it comes at great expense, with astronomical fuel costs as well as wear-and-tear on vehicles and labour expenses. Our investment in the monitoring units has paid themselves off in approximately a year. And every year beyond that is money in our back pocket,” she said.
Important role for agtech
The application of Farmbot forms part of a wider strategy for Crown Point as it looks to make investments that will help it make more informed, valuable decisions about its operations.
“We believe that agtech has an important role to play in the long-term profitability of our operation,” Mrs Costello said. “However, we are careful that we only make investments in technology that serves a real purpose, and helps us make better business decisions. That’s why Farmbot, which gives us more time in the day, more money in our hip pocket and peace of mind at all times, was an absolute no brainer for us,” she said.
While the Farmbot systems also have the capacity to provide other information as well as the status of a watering point, Mrs Costello said to this point they had used the technology simply to confirm that waters were in working order.
“We may look at some of that other information as the next step,” she said.
In addition to the basic water level monitoring function, Farmbot units have been developed to remotely check water flow and pressure rates, rainfall, staff whereabouts via a safety check-in module and electric fencing voltage.
Click here to view an earlier profile on the strong commercial uptake of the Farmbot monitoring systems, from the Evoke Ag event on Melbourne back in February.