Eyre farmers eye virtual fencing future

Developments in research and legislation mean the benefits of ‘virtual fencing’ are getting closer to being a reality for mixed farms with sheep on the Eyre Peninsula. 

CSIRO farming systems scientist Rick Llewellyn presented his research at the GRDC Grains Research Update at Kimba and Cummins in August and spoke with farmers about the benefits to cost and management. 

Dr Llewellyn’s research showed 48 per cent of grain growers with livestock expected they would get substantial benefit from a technology that could control where livestock grazed using electronic collars or ear tags.

“There's still a lot of mixed farming on Eyre Peninsula and there's also a lot of highly variable soils on Eyre Peninsula.

“So you've got mixed farmers managing very variable soils and that's where a lot of the interest for virtual fencing comes from,” he said.

CSIRO trials of a whole-farm economic analysis were done in Victoria, which looked at multiple soil types and various cropping inputs, showing farmers could potentially boost their “whole-farm profit” by 15 per cent by introducing spatial grazing with the GPS-collars. 

Further trials with sheep in New South Wales demonstrated the potential of the technology using virtual fencing collars that controlled them with audio cues. 

“Importantly there's quite a bit more research and development needed to get the technology suitable for sheep,” Dr Llewellyn said. 

He said legislation by the state government initially meant trials could not be conducted in South Australia with the collars, however that had changed. 

“We're planning our first trial early next year near Waikerie and that'll be testing how many sheep need to be wearing the virtual fencing device for adequate control.”

Virtual fencing for cattle will be available next year but Dr Llewellyn said collars were not practical for sheep, meaning an ear tag device would need to be developed.

“It's going to take a while to develop the technology for sheep, but what we've found so far is the potential certainly is there and the economic value is certainly demonstrated.”