In Conversation with Tim McClelland

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In Conversation with Tim McClelland

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Windarra Farm is a six and a half thousand hectare property, home to Tim McClelland and his family. The property is bright with vast green fields, the bustle of working dogs, and at the right time of the year, poddy lambs.

Feeding the new lambs

Tim is a fourth-generation farmer, his family has been responsible for Windarra Farm since the early 1900’s. “I farm with my wife, my father and my aunt and the property is in northwest Victoria. It’s 6 ½ thousand hectares, 5000 of that is crop, wheat and barley, canola, lentils, peas, oats and vetch. The remaining 1500 hectares is zoned to pastures for a mixture of barley, oats and canola. And that’s to feed Merino ewes which are joined to merinos for wool production and joined to coopworth/white Suffolk rams for prime lambs.”

Working on the farm is seasonal for Tim and his team of workers. While no two days look completely the same, they have a morning routine. Each day starts with a briefing for the staff in the workshop, with tasks allocated to seasonal timing, stages of crop growth, repairs, or maintenance on the property.

Tim explains; “I get up and go over to the workshop and speak with all the workers to see what they will be doing that day. Some days I may go back to the office or I may go and start an operation, so I might go seeding or spraying or something like that but in this time of the year our workers have been doing the spraying so I am spending a lot of time in the office.”

Harvest and sowing are the most intense times on the farm: “During harvest we start our day at about 8am and can finish anywhere between 10pm or 2am depending on how the day is going and what the weather conditions are like. Sowing takes about six weeks and harvest takes about the same, so for 12 weeks of the year we are pretty busy!”

Fertiliser spreading before the rain comes.

Along with hiring extra labour for the busy times, Tim and his team need to be responsive to the weather conditions, watching forecast and cycles as best they can to plan their seasons.

Tim also uses BCG to assist with his farming practices, using their Soil Sampling and Yield Prophet software.

Not only does Tim use BCG as a resource, but he also has a special relationship with the organisation: “My dad was one of the founding members of the BCG 30 years ago, so it means BCG has been part of my family life. Everything BCG we have always been involved. When I came back from university and travel, I worked for BCG for about 7 years. I worked in the delivery of crop models, so helping people to make decisions. Then I got into a bit of project management as well at BCG and then in about 2011 I started contracting back to BCG, so I still work with them and for them.”

Tim is one of the farmers that helps to test the new COALA technology through BCG. Tim’s university background and involvement in BCG has made him confident in engaging with technology trials. Tim credits his background in BCG towards his confidence in engaging because the technology is often complex in its beta phase.

“My background with BCG means that I have been able to stay computer literate to stay across what is happening in the agricultural digital space. So, this is something I understand and something I am comfortable with so I am pretty reasonable with computers’ so I don’t mind jumping in to have a go. However, this said we don’t jump in all the way. We mostly trial things in one or two paddocks to build that confidence with the system and then once we find a place for it and it proves to be of benefit then we are confident moving forward.”

Tim’s growing practices have benefitted from the early adoption in new COALA technology.

“I like the crop reports that we received last year. I really appreciate the maps that show the biomass through the seasons, I liked to be able to compare this year to last year, and the year before and the year before that. It gives you a bit of context for where you are, it’s a bit like that strava app to show you if you are beating your time. It gives you that context. We have a lot of recency bias being human so to have that correction right in front of you in a chart form does help to correct some of that bias and to keep a check on things are actually going better or worse than previous years. I feel as though things looks great this year, but maybe they are not. Having some data to back it up and match in with my intuition and my gut feeling.”

The difference a rain makes. The section in green was planted before 10mm of rain, the section in yellow was planted 2 days later. This is a NDVI satellite image measuring chlorophyl.  Blue indicates high levels of chlorophyl and orange indicated low levels of chlorophyl.

The process of engaging with the COALA team has been collaborative “We have had some meetings to talk about the outputs and the things that we would like to see”, though not without its challenges “obviously with time zones we have had some meetings at slightly odd hours!”

As we lean on Satellite technology more, it is proving simpler to share knowledge and support agriculture on a global scale. “I think it’s nice that we can share information across the globe and across the world.”