Ceres Imaging - Prioritising investments with aerial imaging data

The Alm family owns Starrs Reach Vineyard and farms in the Riverland region of South Australia. Their operation consists of four properties split into eight blocks, where they grow winegrapes, almonds and citrus.

In this hot, inland region, mean annual rainfall is only 265mm a year, and the light, sandy loam soil filters water quickly. Consequently, the Alms rely on surface drip irrigation systems to deliver water to their crops almost daily during summer.

The Alm family recently took ownership of additional farm ground. Growth was good news for the business, but the expansion presented some challenges: now, with diverse crop types spread across 30 kilometres, they were finding themselves spread thin.

Even walking the fields in person, it was easy to miss subtle irrigation problems such as drip line leaks caused by the foxes and hares common in the area. 

In addition, some of the newly acquired farms had failing irrigation systems that the Alms knew needed replacing. Without a thorough (and time-consuming) evaluation of the existing infrastructure, it was difficult to know where to start.

Before making a major capital investment in upgrades – or hiring a new employee to help them keep up with the work – the Alms wanted to be sure they were prioritising correctly. They explained that the cost of imagery was 25% of what it would cost to hire another full-time employee.

The Alms worked with Ceres Imaging, an aerial imagery and analytics company, to evaluate irrigation system performance across their operation and determine which improvements were most urgent. The aerial perspective helped them efficiently obtain a holistic, ‘big-picture’ view - and see where investments would deliver the best bang for their buck.

“Imagery helps us prioritise capital irrigation system improvements with a bottoms-up approach, to get the most bang for our buck when determining which system gets replaced first,” said Craig and Sheridan Alm, owners of Yatco Farms.

“There are other imagery providers available, but they aren’t as detailed or high resolution. With Ceres Imaging, we can direct employees to the correct row, even down to the tree, to address the issue we find in the imagery.”

While the Alms budget and plan for these capital expenditures, Ceres Imaging also helps them stay on top of day-to-day irrigation issues and management concerns. They’ve used imagery to complement soil moisture probes – and identify when those probes are malfunctioning.

Aerial data guides their decisions about what issues require immediate attention, versus those that can wait a day or two. This helps them run a lean team: the operation employs just 10 year-round employees, with only two assisting them with irrigation issue detection and improvements.

The Alm’s team have been fighting wet spots that have proven difficult to manage in one orchard. “It’s hard to tell if there is something going on underground or if it is an irrigation system problem.

Ceres Imaging has helped us reduce the problem and has highlighted that the two areas might not be suited to what we are currently doing there,” said Sheridan Alm.

Ceres imaging helps inform Yatco Farms’ long-term irrigation system improvements and streamline day-to-day operations. Using imagery for the last two years has proven to be a valuable tool for the Alm’s when making management decisions as they expand and improve their operation.

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