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Outback Crop Circles

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Written by Alex Mills |

On a stretch of highway between Port Hedland to Broome in northern Western Australia, three big green circles stand out against the plains of red dirt, the latest project of my 23-year-strong cattle breeding family company.

first pivot crop
Our first pivot crop.

When we acquired the Kimberly coast property in late 2013, it came with an artesian bore with enough water pressure to supply three 47-hectare (116-acre) pivots without additional pumping.

Being cattlemen and not farmers, we stepped lightly into the world of center pivots and after much research and many discussions with other pivot farmers and experts, decided on the Valley® brand. In early 2014, three pre-owned Valley pivots arrived at the property ready to be assembled under the supervision of new Pivot Manager Simon Scott.

The goal of the project was to effectively drought proof the two properties, which hold 30,000 cattle collectively. Two pivots grow sorghum which is cut, baled and silage wrapped approximately every 30 days, while the third is reserved for 'stand and graze,’ where cattle are cell grazed to eat directly off the pivot before sale.

The pivot site is over 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the homestead, so it quickly became clear that we would need remote control and monitoring of the pivots. The age of the pivots meant that we were unable to use the new Valley BaseStation3™. After researching some possible alternatives, the task was handed to me. I quit my job at the end of 2014 to start working on AgConnect

Head of the new controller.

The existing Valley control panel already contains 99 percent of the electronics required, so I selected a Siemens programmable logic controller, which, combined with a series of relays, enabled me to control the pivot over a Wi-Fi network. I learned to program the controller in two days and had the full pivot program ready by the end of the week.

A new digital resolver installed in each pivot provides accurate position information to the controller. I installed a fully redundant server in the shed office that connects the three pivots, weather station and soil probes to the AgConnect web app.

iPhone ag connect
AgConnect running on an iPhone.

I built the AgConnect app to constantly monitor the network, pivot state, weather station and soil probes, alerting the user with a notification if a system issue or alert occurs. The latest sensor readings are displayed visually for the user and sent periodically to our Agronomist for accurate fertilizer recipes. Data is sent to and from the pivot in real time so the user always knows exactly what is happening and can make machine changes right from the app.

For safety and security reasons, all 'safety-override' movements must be made on-site using the Valley control panel.

In the future, the user will be able to create schedules and sub-divide the pivots into sections for more detailed control over the irrigation. The next step is to connect the chemigation and solar power systems for complete control and monitoring over the entire site.

This has been a considerable undertaking for Warrawagine Cattle Co., and I'm proud of what we have been able to achieve so far. It's exciting to be able to help shape the future of the growing pivot irrigation industry here in Australia.

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