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Blending proven technologies to save water, help farmers and create growth

Cotton plants growing in a field
The difference in growth rate when compared to the flood irrigation is quite remarkable.

Agline Distributors is using a suite of innovative technologies to conserve water, increase agricultural yields and boost Australian farmers’ profits

Company Profile

Company: Agline Distributors

Sector: Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing

Location: Orange, NSW

Profile: Agline Distributors – the Research and Development arm of Inverness Holdings – is using a range of technologies to help Australian farmers save water, improve yields and build the ‘smart farms’ of the future.

Why R&D was needed

With over 30 years in the farm machinery business and in the cotton industry, General Manager of Agline Distributors Ross Hubbard understands the importance of water – particularly in broad acre dryland farming and irrigation.

In the early 2000s Mr Hubbard had an idea for a planter machine that would minimise the amount of moisture lost when planting seeds. To work on his idea, he incorporated the R&D arm of his business in 2003 and applied to the RDTI program in 2005-06.

After approximately 10 years of prototyping the field work, and an R&D investment of more than $10 million, he patented his design and began selling his ‘Moisture Manager’ product - a world-first technology that can be used as both a conventional broad acre field cultivator and a precision planting device, depending on conditions and grower preference.

The machine won a host of innovation awards for its ability to work in Australian conditions, minimise soil disturbance, and improve farmer’s bottom lines. While under Mr Hubbard’s stewardship, the company also employed 16 staff, a real benefit for the Narribri Shire where he then lived. However, wanting to pursue other innovative ways to help farmers, Mr Hubbard sold off the rights to the Moisture Manager in 2014.

“My genuine interest is to investigate irrigation and I wanted to look at those agricultural opportunities that see real benefit to existing businesses,” he says.

Agline Distributors’ current R&D venture investigates how blended sub-surface drip irrigation pipelines can be used with other technologies to give farmers a more nuanced understanding of their land, minimise water loss and improve crop yields. He says he already has six customers using his blended approach, but that more R&D is needed to demonstrate how the mixed technology can work at scale.

With support from the RDTI, Mr Hubbard is currently proving his concept at cotton, corn, hay/chaff and bean trial sites. Outcomes from these trials will show positive data on productivity, full traceability for end-users and build commercial credibility.

Industry organisations are also showing interest and capital returned to Agline Distributors via the RDTI program is being used to demonstrate to the likes of Meat and Livestock Australia how the company’s innovative approach could be rolled out.

“Research becomes knowledge, but unless you can do the research you can’t get the knowledge…We simply couldn’t do what we’ve done without the RDTI program.”

Ross Hubbard

How the Research and Development Tax Incentive Helps

Conservative estimates on how Agline Distributors’ blended technologies can help broad acre farmers is promising.

For example, a typical 100 Hectare cotton farm field that uses normal flood irrigation uses 1000 Megalitres of water. Based on the assumption of 12 bales of cotton yield per hectare and subtracting business expense, this would deliver approximately $250,000 net profit to the farmer. Mr Hubbard says the use of his blended technology (which harnesses new sub surface drip irrigation technologies) would only use six megalitres per hectare per year. And, given that most farms have more land than available water, this means that farmers could use the saved four megalitres to grow more cotton. Ultimately, this would deliver an extra $100,000, of profit to the farmer (or four megalitres of saved water).

Taking in to account the set-up costs of Mr Hubbard’s technologies (which have a lifespan of 25-40 years) farmers could typically expect to pay off the expense of the technology in four years.

“Ultimately we’re asking how we can use existing known technologies and say ‘How do we grow more with less?” he explains

“These technologies can be used for lots of different crops, but if you take the cotton industry as an example – which is the single largest user of irrigated water in Australia, we can make enormous water saving efficiencies.”

"This research will lead to more efficient water use and the ability to irrigate more land with the same water. This is good for the farmers and the environment.”

Ross Hubbard

RDTI Impact Facts

  • New technological applications can typically save four megalitres of water per 100 hectares of broad acre farmland
  • $15 million returned from DIIS to put towards the company’s Moisture Manager planter and blended technology irrigation systems
  • Potential to deliver an extra $100,000 per annum per broad acre farm customer
  • Potential more sustainable supply of Australian livestock and grains.