Long steps into ag innovation
From the invent of BT Cotton to the development of two centre-metre GPS steering, Moree’s Rob Long has witnessed agricultural progression every step of the way.
And after a stellar career spanning over 33 years, during which time he’s gained a reputation admired across the field and led numerous industry boards, he could be forgiven for starting to wind back. But to the contrary, thanks to a new role at Delta Ag, Moree, it seems this industry heavyweight is only just getting started.
Rob acknowledges Goanna Ag, Delta Ag’s data driven technology developed to improve water use efficiency and simplify farm resource management, was a major draw card. “It was definitely part of my decision to move to Delta Ag. There’s an acute understanding within the company that stored soil moisture is the production driver, and thanks to Goanna Ag, Delta essentially now owns that space.” Coupled with his own innovation, Crown Analytical Services, of which Delta Ag is now heavily invested in, Rob believes this full suite of services gives Delta Ag the inside running to help growers understand the profit drivers of their farm. “Used in conjunction, Goanna Ag and Crown Analytical Services represent enormous potential when coupled with Delta’s strong precision ag offering. When you can marry up technologies to identify specific zones in paddocks and gain a full understanding of diseases and soil moisture – that’s powerful information to have.” “It’s an extremely exciting space to be in, although somewhat daunting - there’s lots to be done, but also so much opportunity.”
As such, amongst the sea of millennial new age ag tech specialists raised on a digital diet, Rob represents old school experience and on the ground knowledge. “That’s why I team up with great young industry specialists – they provide fresh energy, enthusiasm and digital know-how, while I add value through mentoring and experience.” “Professionally we’re perfectly complementary – and it ensures I’m not completely redundant,” Rob laughs. In a further coup for Delta Ag, one such former partnership has been revitalised, with Leigh Norton having also recently joined the Moree team. Past colleagues, Rob and Leigh are thrilled to be working together again. “I wouldn’t be here without Longy,” Leigh muses. “The time he’s invested into me professionally has opened so many doors, no one else has backed me like Longy has and I’ve really run with it and enjoyed every step of the way.” And after a lifetime on the job, Rob says he knows talent when he sees it. “Leigh is one of the district’s most accomplished young agronomists, give him any crop and he just gets it. “During his first year cotton consulting he came third in the Irrigated Cotton Water Use Efficiency category in the highly competitive McIntryre Field Day Cotton Competition.” This, Rob believes, is reflective of his skills and passion. Leigh laughs that growing up in the Lockyer Valley, picking Broccoli for pocket money as a kid, he didn’t even know what an agronomist was.
Yet, since his graduation from agronomy at Gatton University in 2005, Leigh has emerged as one of the leading consultants in the North West. “After Uni I worked in Kununurra on an irrigation property for three years before heading to the Darling Downs working for CRT. From there I headed to Goondiwindi working for a reseller, and now here I am at Delta Ag, servicing the North Star and Croppa Creek regions. “I’ve always done what makes me happy and love what I do, and it feels like this opportunity with Delta Ag is particularly timely – the industry is evolving and I believe Delta Ag is going to play a major part in that evolution.” Leigh says the support offered to agronomists was also key in his decision to join the team. “Delta Ag offers so much support to agronomists, we have a northern agronomists conference every three months, we’ve been to Canberra for a conference with the CSIRO, we even have a WhatsApp group where we can have real time discussions and ask questions in the field if we need.” Rob also finds this transparency within the company impressive. “You can talk to the decision-makers in the business at any given time, you need only pick up the phone and you have direct access to those key people. “The fact that employees are the shareholders, invested in and committed to the company, and that the decision-makers are actively involved in the business, is unique.” Commencing his agronomy career in the Cootamundra district during the mid-1980s, Rob’s vast network included Gerard Hines and Chris Duff – now Delta Ag’s Managing and Executive Directors. “I’ve always had a high degree of respect for Gerard and Chris, and have watched their careers expand over the years.” After four years down south, Rob returned to his hometown of Moree, where his career seemed to evolve in parallel with that of Gerard and Chris. Initially working part-time with agribusinesses Northern Rural Services and Hi-Tech, while working part-time on the family farm, Rob then focussed on his agronomy full-time, establishing a private agronomy business, Ordish and Long at Croppa Creek together with Andrew Ordish. Later he worked for a local reseller for 21 years, before making the move to Delta Ag. Renowned across the industry, he is currently a foundation member, former chairman and on the board of the NGA, the current chairman and on the board of trustees for NSW Wheat Research Foundation and chairman of the Rimanui Farms Australia Board. His move to Delta Ag represents a mutual triumph, with Rob continuing to add value back into the industry via his new position, and Delta having gained in Rob’s invaluable experience and knowledge. While Rob says he still enjoyed pure agronomy – being out in the paddock, watching crops grow, making the right call at the right time to get the best result – he’s looking forward to taking more of a systems and analytical role in his new position. “Ag’s always been at the forefront of technology. “Now it’s a case of refining that data so we can convert it into useable, meaningful actions.”
He is excited by new variable-rate technologies, which allow geospatial monitoring for variabilities in soil, and the prospect of linking water usage to these variable-rate inputs and configuring for the most effective and efficient management. “There will be tangible benefits to the grower and an ease in decision making – moisture monitoring is certainly helping in the decision whether to plant this coming winter season.” Rob and Leigh both believe Delta Ag’s entry into north west NSW will be of huge benefit to the whole region. “It has a strong focus on agronomy, customer service, ag tech and Delta Ag’s fantastic practical precision ag arm- one that not only gets results but is user friendly for agronomists and growers alike,” Leigh explains. “Delta Ag has been able to differentiate itself because as well as delivering good pricing, products and advice, there’s a whole other suite of technological service and advice that no one else is doing, and it will make a huge material difference to growers once it is refined and implemented. “It’s an exciting future ahead, and we’re proud to be a part of it.”
Crown Analytical Services joins forces with Delta to expand its footprint and capability
Having helped pioneer Crown Analytical Services, Australia’s first and only commercial service for testing Crown Rot and Common Root Rot in cereal stubble back in 2007, Rob Long’s innovation has evolved into a multi-faceted disease identifying tool with unlimited potential.
Delta Ag is helping unlock this potential, recently taking out a 50 per cent stake in the business. Crown Analytical Service (CAS) currently services growers and advisors from Griffith to Emerald and collaborates with all resellers, agronomists and growers. Together with wife Susie Long and Jenny Brooks, Rob runs CAS from its Moree office. Key relationships have also been developed with SARDI, whereby CAS acts as their agent for PreDictaB ®– a DNA molecular diagnostic tool to detect levels of soil borne broadacre diseases including Crown Rot, Common Root Rot, Ascochyta, Sclerotinia, Charcoal Rot, Long Fallow Disorder plus 9 others in the northern cropping zone. With Crown Rot and Common Root Rot causing significant losses for Australian wheat and barley growers, up to $250 million per annum, Rob said CAS represents another layer of data for Delta Ag for disease mitigation and optimal soil management. “Delta Ag has given CAS the opportunity to develop, increase its capability and footprint and link in with its current precision ag service.” Crown Analytical Services now has the capability to identify, where, what and how much disease is out there, and respond accordingly.”
“And while broadacre cropping has been progressive in adopting this technology, there is exciting potential for other crops, especially cotton.” Last summer, using SARDI’s DNA diagnostics, CAS piloted a program to assess the spatial distribution of soil borne cotton disease inoculum and has preliminary approval for CRDC funding to collaborate with CSD, Precision Agriculture, NSW DPI and Qld DAF in a three-year project measuring and mapping Verticillium and Black Root Rot. “We will be able to provide disease maps based on measured inoculum levels. “Identifying the spatial variability of inoculum, incidence of disease, interaction with soil properties and impact on yield will be a real breakthrough. This will help growers and advisors manage these diseases that can cause up to 60 per cent yield losses.” Additionally, CAS offers Cotton Petiole testing, providing quick turnaround testing of the Nitrogen status of cotton crops for local agronomists and growers. “Speed of results is very important. We usually provide results within 24-48 hours enabling growers to make decisions to manage N inputs prior to the next irrigation which are on seven to 10 day cycles,” rob Says. Expansion of this overnight service to include Phosphorus and Potassium is also currently in development. With a new website recently launched (www.crownanalytical.com.au) as well as a new data management platform, accessed via that website, CAS now has the capability to enable anyone who has used PreDictaB® in the past five years, or is about to view and manage their crop disease data online.