Drone and sensor technology coming to Australian farming

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Australia’s agriculture sector will benefit from the use of the latest digital technology including drones and long-range sensors as part of a new industry partnership.

Agribusiness, Ruralco, has linked up with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to develop data-driven solutions for more efficient and sustainable farming.

Around $1.5 billion is invested each year in agricultural and rural R&D in Australia and contributes towards an annual 2.8 per cent productivity growth over the past three decades.

Through a series of projects to be rolled out in coming months, the partnership will draw on CSIRO’s expertise in data science research and engineering, and a proven track record of agricultural innovation.

Combined with Ruralco’s on-ground network, the partnership offers potential to deliver new digital solutions to farmers throughout the country.

The joint areas of focus for CSIRO and Ruralco will include:

  • Exploring the potential of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones in long-range livestock detection to improve muster effectiveness
  • Nutrient and fertiliser management in areas of high conservation value, such as the Great Barrier Reef
  • The development of long-range sensing to automate and streamline operations, including water management, livestock safety and security
  • Adaptation of geospatial tools to provide an interface between Ruralco customers and their advisers, making use of real time data for improved decision making and planning.

Travis Dillon, CEO and managing director of Ruralco, said he was delighted to be working with CSIRO to improve farm practices and better manage the environment.

“Drone technology is facilitating data-driven decision making in agriculture,” he said. “Farmers can better analyse issues which affect productivity and sustainability such as: effective nutrient delivery; plant growth; and combat bio-security issues such as invasive species and pest infestation.

Ruralco is well positioned to deliver innovative technology through our 600 national outlets. Aligned with American company PrecisionHawk, farmer-friendly apps also analyse agricultural data in the US, South America and Europe.

Adrian Turner, CEO of CSIRO’s data innovation group Data61, said that his team has deep, globally recognised capability in robotics, remote sensing and data analytics.

“This partnership is an example of us teaming up with Australian industry to help them capitalise on the next computing cycle, at the intersection of data and domains like agriculture,” he said.

“Our work in cyber physical systems, machine learning and analytics, software and computational systems and decision sciences will all play a role.

“Our technologies are capable of storing and distributing data efficiently and reliably over long distances. More importantly, we are helping to make remote sensing accurate, robust, secure and trusted.

Agriculture in Australia­ a sector that has always embraced innovation­ is worth more than $50 billion and grew by $3.1 billion in 2015-16.

Dr Dave Henry, digital agriculture lead with CSIRO, said he was looking forward to working with Ruralco on furthering digital agriculture to support the continued growth of Australian agribusiness.

“It’s early days with the use of drones in agriculture and this partnership with Ruralco will allow us to explore and quantify those situations where the use of drones will aid farmer decision-making in livestock and cropping,” said Dr Henry.