PIFT to paddock

Under the WA government’s $5.6M Northern Beef Development (NBD) Program, the Producer Innovation Fast Track (PIFT) grants were launched in late 2022. The primary objective was to accelerate the uptake of technology and innovation that enhances the productivity and profitability of northern beef businesses. Led by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD), the $1 million grant program provided Kimberley and Pilbara beef producers with an opportunity to invest in technological advances within their businesses, matched dollar-for-dollar by the NBD Program.

The grants provided up to $20,000 to northern WA cattle producers who wished to adopt new technologies to enhance their business performance, sustainability and resilience. The funds could be utilised for adopting new research and development, technologies and innovation that support improving:

  • business performance and benchmarking
  • sustainable rangeland management practices
  • livestock herd performance
  • labour performance or efficiency.

The PIFT grants were well received amongst producers with 27 independent applicants being accepted for funding.

PIFT applications included a wide variety of new technology and infrastructure to assist with efficiency, herd management and land condition reporting. Submissions included funding for remote water monitoring technology, new vet crushes, hydraulic calf cradles, yard scales, land mapping, herd data management systems and hybrid trap yard designs.

For two grant recipients, the funding helped secure portable weighing systems for their operations. Anna Plains Station, situated on the West Kimberley coastline and Yarrie Station in the Pilbara, secured Optiweigh systems earlier in the year.

Predominantly used in southern production systems, an Optiweigh unit is a self-contained portable scale used for in-paddock weighing. Once set up, animals are attracted to the weighing platform by supplement or lick. The unit then reads their individual RFID tag and calculates their weight accurately without the need for manual handling or mustering. The animal’s real-time data is then sent via satellite back to an app.

David Stoate from Anna Plains Station and Annabelle Coppin from Yarrie Station both said they had been thinking about incorporating the technology into their herds for some time and the PIFT was a great initiative to get the technology on farm.

Mr Stoate was particularly interested in how the Optiweigh system would help monitor herd performance over the wet season and claimed, “it will highlight an issue with cattle performance sooner than you might see it.” He also commented on the technology aiding in decision-making and giving “a better idea of when cattle are ready to market.”

Mrs Coppin felt the same, saying they wanted the technology to help monitor their sale cattle and “see how they are going without having to bring them in all the time. This way you can predict when they are ready for sale and also monitor how they are going out in the paddock.” There were also discussions surrounding how this technology will influence time and labour efficiencies, a huge factor in daily operations.

Both Stations said they are in the early stages, only having the Optiweigh systems out in the paddocks for a few months. However, Mrs Coppin feels “it’s starting to show its potential already”.

It’s an exciting time for the North, and we look forward to staying in touch with these northern producers to see how incorporating new technology into their extensive operations will benefit their businesses and decision-making down the track.