Targeting efficiency - How Roberson family invest in new technology in machinery to grow farming pro
Article I Rosie O’Keeffe
Brothers Adam and Mark Roberson have experienced considerable gains in efficiency and profitability from making key machinery and technological investments in their mixed farming enterprise based in southern NSW.
With a 2,300-hectare operation now spread geographically across 15 properties at Mangoplah, The Rock and at Ganmain, the brothers say the key to the productivity of their enterprise is being open to new innovation and farming practices.
“We keep our practices simple, but we are always researching new ways of farming to then adapt for our own business,” the brothers say.
“Farming is certainly our passion, and our choice of career, but you need to make decisions based on what will be best from a business perspective.”
For the cropping operation which is their main enterprise, Illabo and Beckom wheat varieties are planted each season, with one variety of lupins and one variety of canola sown.
There are also currently 9,500 Merino sheep run on the properties, 20 per cent on pasture, and 80 per cent on grazing crops.
“We find the wool returns are consistent each year. We can stock higher density with Merinos and get the same return as fat lambs.”
In doing the majority of the labour in their enterprise, Adam and Mark are concentrating on their cropping enterprise to maximise growth and profitability.
“We try not to employ many contractors or on-farm labour, and that means it has been easier to focus on our cropping program. For us it has been about using new technology and keep our machinery up-to-date – our machinery is all under five years old now,” Adam says.
“We focus on keeping our farming practices simple, doing as much as we can with what we can, making sure we use the biggest and best in the technology and machinery available, and that we can afford, so we can do as much as we can ourselves.”
The crop rotations are lupins, canola, wheat, wheat, and there is one crop variety sown on each farm. Most of the properties are farmed as one paddock for efficiency so during each part of the season, machines do not have to be moved as frequently, and as far.
“A lot of people will still say that they can’t necessarily justify the purchase of new machinery, however, it is showing up in our profitability increases, and we know our efficiencies have increased so we can grow the expanse of the farming properties in our operation, and use our inputs better too,” Adam says.
“Our spreader doesn’t over spread anywhere, so we have significant savings in urea and fertilizer. We have recently started using a stripper front on our harvester to increase harvest efficiency, and we have gone from running two headers, back to one machine. We have a disc machine for our seeding set-up. We have also focused on soil moisture conservation and the nutrient that goes with it, but the labour we save has really been evident before everything else from the investments we have made.”
The brothers say it was around eight years ago after several years of drought conditions they adopted the stripper front to retain more moisture in the soil.
“We had realised through even other farmers experiencing improved productivity, that it could mean we could get more out of our harvester for less fuel usage, and also get more moisture. The first year we ran it was had twice the capacity for half the fuel.
“We bought a disc seeder to go into the longer stubble, and it enables us to sow earlier in the year, so we don’t have to burn our stubbles.
“We still get enough moisture in February for the grazing crops, and in the productivity gains we can cover an extra 20 per cent per day and travel a lot faster.”
Adam and Mark say their spray equipment was upgraded two years ago and is a 36-metre boom used to 12 metre tram lines, with controlled traffic.
“We can now control our droplet size and get more coverage on the weeds at the same time. It has individual nozzle control with automatic shut off to minimise wastage.
“It has been a bigger game changer than what we thought – in the first year in one block we saved 2,000 litres of mixed chemical…”
“We are also researching using drones to map our weeds and spot spray using that technology.”
Adam and Mark say 80 per cent of the crops planted last year were harvested due to wet conditions. Yields were average with 2.2 tonne/hectare for canola, 5.4t/ha for wheat, and lupins 2.5t/ha.
This season has proved to be the wettest lead up to spring due to combined rainfall and soil moisture.
Average rainfall is generally between 580mm and 620mm, and even in the drought years, the family was able to bale and sell hay.
Infrastructure constructed including a large hay shed and silos proved vital in these drought years. There is also a fertilizer shed to store larger amounts of fertilizer on-farm, and there are plans to further increase on-farm storage for grain marketing.
“Our main harvest delivery point is just 10km away at The Rock and with good prices at harvest the last few years we haven’t had the need in recent times for as much on-farm storage… Warehousing there and then selling grain throughout the year has been a better option.
“The on-farm storage we have from a quality point of view has good aeriation to control insects. It is particularly beneficial for the lupins, we store them in grain bags at harvest before we get it into silos.”
The Roberson brothers have been using the Delta Agribusiness services at Yerong Creek for more then 10 years.
“We had been trying to find a business that would support us on a level that we wanted and we found that the agronomy package and delivery service has been great for our business.”
Whilst the Roberson family history in farming dates back to 1917 in the Mangoplah area, and Adam and Mark’s father Peter still involved in working within the enterprise, Peter says it has been important for him to allow the business to evolve under his sons’ new management, especially in recent years.
“My grandfather Charles Roberson originally took up farming, and then my father was the next generation and one of seven children.
I eventually acquired “Forest Vale” at Mangoplah and in 1988 “Wyrema” at The Rock was purchased, and then another farming property at Mangoplah,” Peter says.
“My brother and I were told we were going to come back and work on the farm, so there wasn’t really a choice, but my brother and I were in partnership until 1995. The boys have then expanded the land through owned and leased properties over the years.
“I encouraged Adam and Mark to get a degree, or a trade, or work for a few years so they learn how to manage under different leaderships… I thought it would give them a good grounding. I never knew anything else other than what my father had taught me and I felt it was important they put into practice some of their own ideas.”
Adam and Mark both agree that their off-farm studies and experience has also been beneficial for their farming business.
Adam studied an applied science degree at CSU in Wagga before working as an agronomist, at Stolls undertaking spray work and in GPS technology. Mark completed a Bachelor of Farm Management through the University of Sydney at Orange before working during a harvest season in America, before working on properties in the region and casually at Hutcheon and Pearce.
“We have always been passionate about farming and being involved in agriculture,” Mark says. “The soil and nutrients are always increasing here, and the paddocks are certainly doing better than when we first started.
Adam Roberson with Delta Ag Yerong Creek’s April Kennedy
“The information from our data that is available now is just amazing, and there is so much more to come with autonomous tractors or drones being used in spraying activities to provide further savings on chemicals, there are so many savings to be made on inputs using technology.
“You’ve got to be open to the next best thing that will be available. You can’t just sit still and do what you’ve been doing for the past 20 years. Farming practices are continually evolving.”
The Roberson brothers say that expansion is always in the back of their minds and enabling their own children to also be involved in the farming enterprise in the future.
“We want to be leaving a profitable business to enable them to expand into the future,” Adam and Mark say.
“Technology has changed our business a lot and it will definitely change it more in the future. There will be bigger growth in the next 10 years to what we have seen now. It’s not necessarily that everything will be just getting bigger and better, but farming practices will certainly be more efficient.”