Connectivity solutions help drive business on remote WA cattle station - evokeAG.

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Connectivity solutions help drive business on remote WA cattle station

Jack Carmody is the manager of Prenti Downs, one of Western Australia’s largest and most remote cattle stations. Jack has created a system, supported by the nbn® network, that delivers high-speed Internet to the homestead — and allows him to monitor livestock in the most isolated pockets of his one-million-acre holding.

We’ve all wandered around with our arm in the air trying to get a phone signal, but few of us have travelled almost 200 kilometres to send a text.

Jack Carmody is the manager of Prenti Downs, a cattle station west of Wiluna and 1,200 kilometres northeast of Perth. The property sits on the edge of the Little Sandy Desert, and at one million acres (400,000 hectares), it is larger than the average European nation. It’s also not the kind of place you’d expect to be able to make a Zoom call.

“We are close to the centre of WA — the nearest town is 265 kilometres away,” said Jack.

Mobile coverage has always been a challenge, he explained. “Don’t even think about mobile service out here. You’ve got to travel 170kms before you can even send a text.”

Jack has set up continuous high-definition live-streaming cameras and remotely-operated, self-mustering gates at several sites — with more on the way. This dream set-up — a combination of high technology and bush ingenuity — started with a reliable internet connection delivered via the nbn® Sky Muster® satellite platform.

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Livestock are trained to use the remote monitoring gates, which supports the ongoing development of low-stress stock handling, and serves to keep the rangelands healthy.

From no mobile reception to checking water points at the breakfast table

“If we didn’t have the nbn, we wouldn’t be able to have this conversation right now,” said Jack.

“It was one of the best things that have happened to us — going from a patchy connection to being able to jump on and stream video and calls.”

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The former Australian Army Reservist said the system also inspired new applications and connected Prenti Station with a global community of innovators.

Jack Carmody

Jack Carmody in front of the 13 metre tower, made of recycled drill rod, that provides coverage to the southern half of Prenti Downs Station, a 400,000-hectare property near Wiluna, Western Australia.

“As soon as we had that connection, the ideas started flowing,” said Jack.

“It changed the game completely. We might be remote but we’re not isolated, because now the world is at our fingertips.”

It also improved safety on the station — an important upgrade when you’re a long way from help.

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Prenti Downs Verety and Ysobel Carmody

Verety and Ysobel Carmody at Prenti Downs, standing in front of the main backhaul tower (which connects the homestead to the rest of the other towers around the property). It features 600W of solar, and a 400W wind turbine – installed for assessing 24hr power solutions.

“Good communications are a safety tool:” Lessons from the Australian Army Reserve

Agriculture regularly ranks as one of the most dangerous industries in Australia — and Jack knows that being able to call for help saves lives.

“My time in the Army Reserve highlighted the need for fast and clear communications,” said Jack.

“In hard-to-reach areas, you have to be dynamic and use the best technology available. Good communications are a safety tool, and it’s your job to ensure that is achieved.”

“We’ve really pushed that mentality out here on the station because we have to make sure that we have that safety factor.”

In addition to being a Reservist, Jack previously worked as an integrated solutions specialist for Cervus Equipment Australia. The Canadian company Brandt recently purchased Cervus and the combined entity is now the largest John Deere dealer in the world. The primary focus of Jack’s role was applying cutting-edge technology to agricultural settings. “But you don’t need to be a tech whiz to install a system like we have at Prenti Downs,” he added.

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Verety and Ysobel Carmody at Prenti Downs.

Verety and Ysobel Carmody at Prenti Downs. Jack explains, “A big feature of this system is the inclusiveness with the children, and the extra time that I can spend with them.” Photo by Rosie Henderson.

Remote monitoring: “Those who want to achieve it, will”

Jack is not the only person checking stock water over a morning coffee. His father Tim Carmody who bought Prenti Downs in 2015, has always been an early adopter of technology.

The addition of a satellite nbn connection at the Prenti homestead has enabled Tim to check in on the farm from his home in Esperance, 1,000 kilometres to the south. It is something Jack would like to see other pastoralists do.

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“Those who want to achieve it, will — farmers learn what they need to learn, and this is a teachable skill.

Carmody family at Prenti Downs. Photo by Rosie Henderson

Carmody family at Prenti Downs. Photo by Rosie Henderson

“With the right kind of assistance, a farmer can install a system like this, diagnose issues and have the freedom and confidence to repair it themselves,” he said.

“There’s no reason not to have a crack at it — there are people available to help. We’ve spent a lot of money on gimmicks previously. The more you play with it the more confident you get, and the more you can achieve.”

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Executive Manager of Health and Agriculture at nbn, Robert Hardie has been working closely with farmers like Jack Carmody to improve on-farm outcomes, such as saving time and increasing productivity through the use of Internet-enabled digital agriculture devices.

Robert Hardie

Executive Manager of Health and Agriculture at nbn, Robert Hardie. Photo by Rachael Lenehan.

“Jack’s innovative solution has helped his business reap the rewards of the digital agriculture revolution on Australia’s doorstep.”

“With a network spanning Australia’s 7.7 million square kilometre landmass, the nbn® network is capable of helping farmers save time, grow productivity and make more informed decisions,” said Robert.

“The capacity to deploy innovative solutions such as advanced automation, robotics and other emerging technologies is underpinned by basic on-farm connectivity. As Jack has demonstrated, deploying his own on-farm network infrastructure has created serious benefits to his business, lessons which other Australian farmers can stand to benefit from deploying themselves.”

Robert is also a speaker at the evokeAG. 2023 Down to Earth event, where he will join a panel discussion with industry experts, Professor Craig Baillie from the University of Southern Queensland and Andrew Bate of SwarmFarm Robotics, to discuss the future of autonomous agriculture, the new technologies and how they’re improving outcomes for farmers.

“nbn is delighted to be a partner in the delivery of evokeAG. 2023, bringing together farmers and technologists to drive the growth of Australia’s agricultural output for the future. At the heart of any digital farm is connectivity, and we’re keen to continue the conversation with farmers about how our network can be part of their on-farm connectivity needs now and into the future.”

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Jack encourages farmers to understand the ‘nuts and bolts’ of how their connectivity solution works, so that they can better identify opportunities – that their technician or consultant might not identify – to continuously improve their business operations.

“Farmers are going to have more ideas on what we can do with connectivity than anyone in an office ever will, because you’re out there and you’re doing it,” said Jack.

  • nbn wass a Silver Partner and host of the Welcome Event at AgriFutures evokeAG. 2023 Down to Earth — helping farmers to take full advantage of the opportunities available to them through digital technology.
  • Want to learn more about the Asia Pacific’s agrifood tech ecosystem and surround yourself with like-minded and future-focused producers like Jack? Sign up for our newsletter here and receive fresh stories about global leaders, farmers, startups and innovators driving collaborative change.
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