Unearthing Resilient Landscapes across the Northern Territory

Simone Cameron, DIRECTOR OF REGIONS AND PROJECTS, NT FARMERS

In an exciting development this year, NT Farmers negotiated with LiDAR providers to secure a preferential rate for data capture and managed administration for a large-scale capture across the NT. ‘Gather data once use many times’, LiDAR is the tool for land management practices. 24 properties across the NT in the regions of the Douglas Daly, Katherine, Sturt Plateau, and the VRD committed to capturing of LiDAR, a total area of close to 300,000 hectares, one of the largest ever captures in Australia. The scope of this work will provide the necessary insight into best practice management techniques uniquely positioned for northern cropping development and to promote sustainable farming practices within this emerging northern cropping industry. NT Farmers believes this is a foundational tool for the future potential of our agricultural industries. It will enable the balance between agriculture and the environment to be realised.

LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) is a powerful tool that provides high-resolution, three-dimensional, spatial information about the land. This data enables farm management plans to be developed by giving adequate information for field cropping layout plans. Farming with the landscape will enable outcomes of improved land management and potential production yields from agricultural enterprises, including cropping, horticulture, and livestock grazing. It will also mitigate the risks associated with erosion concerns. The use of such technology is now widely adopted across agricultural landscapes but is yet to be considered a mainstay practice for the Northern Territory.

Much of the NT is retained under native vegetation, with a significant proportion of future agricultural developments involving ‘green field’ sites. This provides a unique opportunity to develop sustainable agricultural areas in such a manner as to avoid many of the environmental problems faced in other parts of Australia and avoid unnecessary land clearing. Quality baseline data on soils, vegetation, biodiversity, and topography is needed to facilitate this development.

In northern Australia, monitoring soil and landscape characteristics over large agricultural areas can be challenging due to vast distances, limited accessibility, and opportunities to deliver capacity at scale. To move beyond the local to the landscape scale, it is necessary to understand and model the eco-hydrology of the landscape. To accurately represent land surface morphology to model hydrological and erosion processes, accurate, high-resolution digital elevation models (DEMs) are required. The current widely available DEMs (based on 30m SRTM pixel data) are far too coarse and inaccurate for this process.

Processed LiDAR provides a range of other products including an accurate digital surface model (DSM), an array of data regarding the vegetation community including tree height, tree canopy density, vegetation structure, ground cover density, fire fuel estimates, above-ground biomass (important for carbon accounting) plus others. Importantly, LiDAR is repeatable and comparable meaning multitemporal LiDAR data can be used to monitor changes in vegetation communities such as condition, response to fire and/or landscape rehydration works, etc.

Uses for LiDAR in Agriculture

  • 3D Elevation Map
  • Soil Insight Analysis
  • Improving Irrigation
  • Minimising Erosion
  • Precision Agriculture
  • Forecasting Crop Yields and Output
  • Determining Crop Damage
  • Land Mapping
  • Productions Zones
  • Crop Analysis

Specialist consultants will deliver two online workshops in early 2023, to educate participants on how to utilise the extensive LiDAR data collected in 2022 and to promote productive and efficient farming ecosystems in the Northern Territory. The workshops will focus on learning more about LiDAR data, the software systems to use, how to interpret it, and how to apply it to their land management strategies. In addition, the specialist consultants will attend the 2023 Northern Australia Food Futures Conference for a face-to-face educational opportunity.

If you are interested to know more, please contact our Director of Regions and Projects, Simone Cameron

M: 0413 308 335 E: drp@ntfarmers.org.au

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