Funding boost for sustainable agriculture research

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The National Landcare Program aims to reinvigorate the agricultural sector as well as look at sustainability in managing one of Australia’s key resources – its land. The total funding package announced in this round is more than $27 million and the University of Sydney’s funding share for its projects will augment its existing work in rural regions and agriculture and its long relationship with regional communities.

The Sydney Institute of Agriculture (SIA) DigiFarm Hub project in Narrabri received $2.37 million in funding to develop its education platform for stakeholders including farmers, agribusiness, and schools to experience the latest ag-innovation thinking relating to soil health, robotics and digital agriculture, cropping and livestock systems.

Led by Associate Professor Guy Roth, Director of the Plant Breeding Institute Narrabri, the DigiFarm project represents the next stage in the development of the University of Sydney’s research farms in North-West NSW. The project team also comprises Professor Iain Young who will take up his role as Dean of the Faculty of Science on 12 July, and Professor Alex McBratney, Director of SIA.

Three years ago, the University acquired L’lara, a 2,000 hectare property neighbouring the I. A. Watson Grains Research Station. L’lara is a typical mixed cropping (60 percent) and cattle (35 per cent) farm with some remnant native forest (5 percent).

Professor Alex McBratney said this was a strategic investment by the University in regional infrastructure for sustainable farming systems research.

“The new digitally-enabled agriculture will always have its foundations in sustainable and profitable production through sensors, argonomically-relevant big data, autonomous systems and recognition of the opportunity to adapt to climate change,” Professor McBratney said.

DigiFarm links the best research and proactivity on the university farms to a network of 10 satellite commercial farms across north-east NSW (including, Moree, Edgeroi, Bellata, Boggabri, Gunnedah, SpringRidge, WeeWaa).

“DigiFarm will lead the way to help farmers get the best out of their soils for the growth of food and fibre,” McBratney said.

“This network develops the University’s ‘Knowledge for Service’ philosophy across the region; SIA’s aim has always been to develop new knowledge to help the country move forward,” he said.

Professor Iain Young said the investment was testament not just to the importance of ongoing sustainable land management and innovative agricultural practices but also to the world-class work out of the Sydney Institute of Agriculture.

“DigiFarm has the potential for application for land management world-wide; we are immensely proud of our research and teaching and building long-lasting relationships with our communities,” Professor Young concluded.