Title: Economic viability and environmental sustainability in the Australian cropping zone.

Authors: Bertram Ostendorf, Gregory Lyle

Abstract: Yield pattern from precision agriculture show a substantial variation within paddocks. Those areas, where cost (fuel, time and fertiliser etc.) are not substantially higher than returns from yield may be specifically targeted for alternative land uses that improve biodiversity or carbon storage. But yield data is unavailable at large spatial extent and for longer time series and it remains largely unknown if pattern are consistent over time, for different crops and weather conditions. Identification of consistently unproductive areas (or in other words areas that are currently not used optimally) will reduce the level of uncertainty and risk and hence facilitate the decision of land holders to adopt alternative practices. The spatial resolution of LANDSAT imagery is comparable to that of yield maps. If it is possible to find general yield models, spatio-temporal pattern of yield may be generated for larger time series within farms and regions. In this research we test the generality of yield prediction from satellite imagery for a large dataset of 640 paddocks across South Australia from 1998-2009 and evaluate under which conditions yield prediction is possible and when models become too erroneous to remain useful. We test the predictability amongst crops, seasons, years and distance from calibration data. Areas of economic profit and loss can then be identified using simple gross margin analysis of the regional yield image. The development of robust grain yield-remote sensing relationships may allow extrapolation of yield estimates to other regions and to extend the time series without the need for a long-term and broad-scale adoption of precision agriculture technology. From this information, a greater understanding of the magnitude of economic trade-offs required to provide an environmental benefit can be explored and regional effects to industry can be assessed.

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