Matching crop inputs to attainable yields
In Australia, a land subject to high annual variation in grain yields, farmers find it challenging to adjust crop production inputs to potential crop yields. To maximise yields, farmers must make decisions regarding sowing dates, grain varieties, irrigation and fertiliser applications against the backdrop of paddock-specific considerations such as soil type and growing season rainfall.
The uncertainty surrounding the effects of different management regimes on crop yields can lead to sub-optimal decisions, resulting in financial losses and adverse environmental impacts.
Real-time decision support for farmers
In collaboration with CSIRO, Birchip Cropping Group developed Yield Prophet®, an internet service which provides grain growers with real-time information about their crops. Yield Prophet® supports grain growers to make better decisions with respect to inputs such as nitrogen application, crop varieties and irrigation levels.
Yield Prophet® acts as an interface to the crop production model APSIM incorporating soil test results, growing season rainfall, crop management and historic climate data to provide accurate and objective real-time assessments of seasonal yield potential.
Using the grower's own soil test data, it estimates the probabilities of a specific paddock obtaining a range of yields. By matching crop inputs with the attainable yield in a given season, growers may avoid over- or under-investing in their crop. Crop details required are the type and amount of starting stubble, sowing date, crop type, cultivar and sowing density.
During the season, the grower can optionally enter rainfall for an individual paddock. They can also update paddock management details (cultivations, applications of nitrogen fertiliser, irrigation) as they occur.
Yield Prophet® uses the past 100 years of climate data (maximum and minimum temperature, radiation, evaporation and vapour pressure) for the Bureau of Meteorology weather station nominated by the grower. Yield Prophet® also uniquely provides a means for virtual monitoring of the progress of a crop throughout the season. This is particularly important for in-season decision support and for frequent reviewing, in real time, of the consequences of past decisions and past events on likely future outcomes.
Yield Prophet® Lite
A free version of the platform, called Yield Prophet® Lite, has been launched to give new users unfamiliar with digital agriculture tools the ability to trial its benefits. A simplified feature set allows farmers to predict the probability of yields for a variety of common crops by inputting common variables such as nitrogen and organic carbon content in soil, and comparing against historical rainfall and the forecast probability. Yield Prophet® Lite is available to download from the Apple App Store.
Transforming yield for Australian growers
A yield-probability curve is the main output of Yield Prophet®. Growers can see the likely impact of different sowing dates, varieties, and irrigation and nitrogen applications by choosing different 'scenarios'. Using the probability curve generated for each scenario, Yield Prophet® estimates the probability of achieving a higher (or lower) yield as a result of adding water or nitrogen, sowing on a different date or sowing a different variety. It can also estimate gross margin based on the predicted grain quality and price.
Yield Prophet® has transformed the maximum yield per hectare of average Australian wheat growers, leading to increased profitability for farmers. In addition, the use of Yield Prophet® is likely to result in environmental benefits, such as reducing the amount of nitrogen and other products exported into soil and waterways; and social benefits from increased resilience in regional communities.
"It's fantastic – having access to this kind of science to check against your gut feel is just invaluable. Models like Yield Prophet® can save the industry millions of dollars by making decisions more clear cut."
— Bill Long, South Australian grain grower
A recent economic assessment estimates the net present value of the Yield Prophet® project to be approximately $26.1 million with $6.4 million attributable to CSIRO1.
Yield Prophet® is funded by the BCG (the Birchip Cropping Group), with added support from CSIRO, the Grains Research & Development Corporation and the national Managing Climate Variability program.
- CSIRO, 2016. Research Impact Evaluation - Yield Prophet Case Study. CSIRO, Canberra.