World-class innovative technology for agriculture is being delivered straight out of Narrabri and sent across the globe.
While the world has slowly come to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, SierraTek has used the downtime from the slowdown to ramp up its efforts in developing innovative software and hardware solutions for agribusiness and industry.
SierraTek is the brainchild of Narrabri local Jamie Condon who established the business with business partner Bevan Coote to bring engineering and technical resources to the bush.
One of their signature products is its diverse SierraNet platform that can be used by just about any industry to connect the end user to their assets.
The innovative technology is used as a full control system that can be utilised through an app or computer and provides critical information and process control at the touch of a button.
“SierraNet is a combination of software and hardware that can help farmers and irrigators conduct their business easier and more efficiently,” Mr Condon said.
“In times of increasing costs and reduced labour availability it was time to develop and support products that will help our primary industries survive and prosper in the years ahead, SierraNet connects them to their assets from wherever they may be.
“It could be a pump in the field, water levels, a piece of mobile equipment, a moisture probe, a solar farm or a weather station – pretty well any device can be integrated and we can bring all of that information back to the portal or app,” Mr Condon said.
“The system allows the end user to be in countless places at once, significantly improving efficiency in the way things have traditionally been done.
“The end user can control everything from their phone or their computer.”
Local farmer Peter Dampney and his son Tony have made an enormous technological leap to introduce SierraNet to their farming operations.
The system has been installed at the Dampney family’s property, just outside of Narrabri.
Peter explained that they previously used a diesel engine to run their line drive bore.
While brilliant in design and commonly used in the region, that method had its inefficiencies and was at the upper end in terms of the cost to run the machinery.
The Dampneys moved to a fully automated electric bore operation.
“Efficiency was the main thing,” Peter said of working with SierraTek on an innovative solution for their farming property.
“With hybrid remote controlled staged electrical bore pumps, there’s no more efficient way to move water,” Mr Condon said.
To complement their new system introduced at their property, the Dampneys are looking to add a 100kW solar array to the site to further increase the energy efficiency.
“That’s a really forward-thinking way to move,” Mr Condon said.
Peter was happy with how the system was performing as well as with the ease of accessing information on a phone or a computer.
“We live 20 kilometres away. Before, we would have to come out and check everything,” Peter said.
Now, whether they are at home or working on another property, the Dampneys can be in complete control of what is happening at their Narrabri property.
Peter said farming technology had come ahead with big advancements over the years.
“Irrigation technology has really improved a lot in the last 10 to 15 years,” he said.
“We are in a pretty exciting time.”
The Dampneys, cotton and durum wheat growers, are always trying to improve the technology they use and become more efficient in their operations.
Engaging SierraTek to discuss innovative options for their business such as the SierraNet was a big leap in improving their efficiency.
Mr Condon said SierraNet was only one important product in their global picture.
“We design and construct all types of industry equipment and electrical control systems here in Narrabri.
“We also build our systems down in Newcastle and our Griffith workshops and ship these across the country and abroad,” he said, speaking of their exporting operations.
“We are offering a full stack solution from a sensor in the field, the electrical control systems and integration through to the software development of the app or the product that’s keeping it all under control.”
Mr Condon said the system could be scaled down depending on its level of use.
“Our technology solutions are a mix of traditional and cutting edge,” Mr Condon said.
“People have trouble sourcing labour in regional areas, energy costs are very high – it’s all about trying to improve our customers’ efficiencies and the way they operate their businesses.
“With the SierraNet telemetry system our customers can watch everything live and be in control of their assets.
“It’s a massive game changer.”
The development of SierraNet is just part of the success story of the Narrabri business successfully operated by Mr Condon and his wife Annette.
Formed in 2017, the business quickly expanded overseas looking for opportunities.
With the drought starting to bite, Mr Condon said it was their overseas trade that provided them with a lifeboat to keep building their business.
“We spent a year and half in the US working in different sectors in the cotton industry,” he said.
“Fortunately we also secured opportunities in Africa and formed successful relationships with similar agribusinesses.
“With those trips to the US and Africa, we were able to start an export business,” he said.
“That was a really great thing for us, to be able to diversify and expand our business overseas to help survive through some pretty tough times.
“Prior to COVID’s shock arrival, the business was also looking to expand into other regions of the world.
“It was getting very exciting before COVID rained on our parade,” Mr Condon said.
“We were about to hit Greece, China and South America in a big way.
They remained in the United States until the final days before strict border lockdowns were enforced and this sent the SierraTek team home.
“Unfortunately, we had to leave a lot of projects undone in the US and Africa,” Mr Condon said.
“We are still waiting today to get back there and finish them.”
In Australia, the business started from the Riverina, in Griffith, and quickly expanded.
“With higher water security at the time it was really happening down there,” Mr Condon said of the Riverina.
“They had water, they had energy, they had enthusiasm in so many different sectors – not just cotton.”
Following the establishment of their Griffith base, SierraTek expanded to Newcastle as an engineering hub.
The Newcastle expansion provided a valuable way for Mr Condon to tap into the city’s education systems and recruit engineers.
“It would give us an attractive place for senior engineers and a grooming place for recruits and graduates from universities and schools,” Mr Condon said.
After Newcastle, SierraTek expanded to Toowoomba and Hay.
“Keeping on the western side of the Great Dividing Range is important to us,” Mr Condon said. “We want to support our agribusiness and our rural and regional communities.
“The metropolitan areas have always had good support, we wanted to focus on this side of the mountains.”
Following such a quick period of growth, and some challenging times, Mr Condon said he realised it was time to focus on Narrabri.
“We thought we better come back to Narrabri and get the hometown base going,” he said.
“The drought was still biting but there were some projects that were starting to bubble in the resource sector that I’ve always been part of and was interested in further developing.
“Another service that SierraTek is heavily committed to is the spare parts supply and service of the cotton ginning industry along with the water metering and telemetry needs of our irrigators, SierraTek is an Irrigation Australia certified meter installer and is assisting our irrigators to transition and meet the new regulations after some of the biggest changes to the non-urban water industry.”
“Australia does agribusiness really well and does cotton exceptionally well,” he said.
“The Australian cotton market is globally admired for how we survive with such high input costs.
“It is due to this high pressure on our Australian industries that has driven innovation and efficiency improvements that the rest of the world aspire to achieve.”
Mr Condon’s thirst for innovation stretches beyond just the cotton industry.
“From a young age, I was very aware of the shortage of skills and particularly professional and engineering skills to regional areas,” he said.
As a younger and less grey-haired man, Mr Condon completed his apprenticeship with his father Ray Condon’s electrical contracting company A.M. Electrical before moving to Newcastle with wife Annette to complete his electrical engineering post trade.
After what turned into a career defining 10 years working in Newcastle’s heavy industry sector, Jamie and Annette returned to Narrabri with a young family to take on an electrical engineering manager’s role with Auscott.
“Auscott was an amazing place to work with some of the most knowledgeable and dedicated people in the agribusiness industry, I greatly value my 13 years with the company and credit Auscott with many of the skills that I can now apply to the SierraTek business,” Mr Condon said.
“We at SierraTek are looking forward to seeing the rains return and dams overflow for both our environment and our agribusiness sector along with some great progress in these local industrial projects that have been slowly progressing in the Narrabri region for some time.
“This will lead to the next chapter of Narrabri’s exciting story and enabling businesses like ours to grow and employ more local people and bring a further range of skills to town.”To order photos from this page click here