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WaterCan Profit calculator set to optimise cropping, ready for commercialisation

Words by Michelle Meehan

Growing profitable irrigated broadacre crops is far from a straightforward equation.

To calculate the potential for a successful yield, farmers have to consider a wide range of economic and climatic factors that can all have a bearing on the overall outcome.

This can include everything from crop choice and water availability to seasonal conditions and irrigation methods, generating countless possible scenarios and measures of success.

A team of researchers led by Associate Professor Matthew Harrison from the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) have successfully developed a user-friendly online tool that can now take the guesswork out of this process for farmers and agronomists.

Now a commercial opportunity exists for agritech solution providers, irrigation equipment companies and retail agronomy agribusinesses interested in licensing a decision support platform.

  • Learn more about the commercial opportunity, via growAG. here. Expressions of Interest close Friday, 16 September 2022.  

Related organisations

Logo for Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA)
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Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA)

The Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) was established in 1997 as a joint venture between the University of Tasmania and the …
  • Location

    Global

  • Organisation type

    Public research organisation

WaterCan Profit: Demand-driven research 

The tool is called WaterCan Profit and was developed as part of an industry-driven project that kicked off in 2019 with funding from the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).

"We have spoken with and incorporated the feedback of over 150 people in the grains sector, including farmers, agronomists, researchers and sales people. And we have designed the calculator using participatory research from the outset," said Matthew.

“WaterCan Profit is a demand driven calculator. It came about in response to demand from irrigated grain growers to improve their profitability, or more specifically, their dollars per megalitre and dollars per hectare from irrigated farms.”

“The first question is, if you've got a wide number of variables that impact on your profit such as water price, water use, crop type, season, rotation and markets, ‘how do you throw all that into the mix to determine what would be the most profitable crop to sow?’

“The second question is, for a finite amount of water, for example a farmer’s water allocation per year or per season, ‘how would you most profitably use that water?’

"Should you use it all in spring or save it for a summer crop, or use it sparsely for both crops over winter and summer? Should you apply it all to cotton or grow a rice crop or use strategic watering for wheat. It considers a whole farm optimisation of a finite amount of water.

“The third part is more of a strategic question that’s come to us from a few leading farmers, which addresses considerations of alternative investments in irrigation infrastructure.”

The project team spans a variety of academic, industry and grower groups and organisations, including the University of Tasmania, University of Queensland, South Australian Research and Development Institute, CSIRO, the Southern Growers Group and the Irrigated Cropping Council.

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Irrigated crop production – how to optimise profitability 

At its core, Matthew likens WaterCan Profit to a “what if” scenario analysis tool. Its features enable users to quickly and easily contrast key factors affecting crop profitability, and select profitable crop types given the known costs such as fertiliser, fuel and irrigation, as well as seasonal climate outlooks.

The calculator can help maximise returns on irrigated water and apply the most economic amount of irrigation to current crops, and can also compare returns on investment in irrigation infrastructure such as surface irrigation, border-check, centre-pivot or lateral irrigation.

It’s this multi-faceted functionality that sets WaterCan Profit apart from anything else on the market.

“It uses an algorithm to compare thousands of different combinations to come up with the most profitable results. It's quite unique in that it's an optimiser, but it's also a long-term strategic calculator,” said Matthew.

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“There are tools that have similar individual elements, but there's no calculator that addresses both the tactical question and the strategic questions that we've got in there.”

The demand for and convenience of WaterCan Profit isn’t just theoretical either, it’s been tested and refined through interactive one-on-one consultations and group workshop sessions with farmers and agronomists, which involved in-putting the specific conditions on a particular farm to provide an on-the-spot example of how the platform works.

“We had five case study farmers and we set up their farms with WaterCan Profit and got dedicated feedback from them face-to-face,” explained Matthew.

“We had grower groups with anywhere between 10 and 50 people coming along to workshop presentations, and we also got really positive feedback from agronomists.

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“I remember one of the sessions we had with a consultant who had his farmer there, and the farmer said, ‘Wow, this has actually saved me three- or four-years’ worth of experimenting in the paddock by using this product for half an hour’.

“When it's interactive and it comes from the farmer, they're more likely to adopt the outcomes and that's been the whole premise of the project. It’s designed with and for Australian farmers from the bottom up to address a market gap.”
 

Next step towards commercialisation

With the end users already showing strong interest in the benefits of WaterCan Profit, TIA and GRDC are now looking to engage with agritech solution providers, irrigation equipment companies and retail agronomy agribusinesses interested in licensing the platform.

While Matthew said WaterCan Profit could be used by an academic institution for further research purposes, it also has strong commercial potential as a consulting tool, with the option for companies to integrate it into their decision-support tools, provided the minimum viable functionality of the calculator is retained.

The calculator currently exists as a desktop tool accessible via the Internet, however the project team are also working on an app-based version to augment its versatility and useability.

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