Farmers and technology developers from around Australia have joined forces with leading scientists to turn a typical grazier’s property into a high-tech, NBN-enabled ‘SMART’ farm trialling the agricultural tools of the future. And these are some very cool tools...
The University of New England’s SMART Farm, 2,900 hectares of primarily grazing land north-west of Armidale in northern NSW, has been transformed into an agricultural research facility where scientists from CSIRO and The University of New England are creating a prototype for the streamlined farms of the near-future.
The Kirby-Newholme property, one of UNE's Armidale commercial farms, centres on a $2 million SMART Farm Innovation Centre, officially launched in March 2015 by Minister for Agriculture, the Hon. Barnaby Joyce, that is linked to the wider world via AARNet and the national broadband network (NBN) - so it's connected via fibre, terrestrial wireless and satellite.
With an advanced telemetry network capable of hosting innovative sensors and intelligent systems, SMART (that's Sustainable Manageable Accessible Rural Technologies) Farm is something of a national showcase for new farm technology and systems.
Here, you (and indeed, anyone, from anywhere with access to the internet) can see these new technologies and systems in action on a real, working farm. You - alongside the scientists - can learn how they work and explore ways to use them to improve farm management.
So far, the cutting-edge technology in use at SMART Farm includes:
- sensors and sensor networks,
- immersive and sentinel vision and communication technologies, and
- far-end control and autonomous systems including RPAS and robotics.
On SMART Farm, vast quantities of real-time data are being generated 24-7 by a network of wireless sensors that monitor soil, crops, pasture, livestock, machinery and environmental conditions around the property, ultimately sending the data to ‘cloud’ computing services where it can be turned into actionable information and returned to farmers via desktop or mobile apps.
Among the various technologies being deployed on-farm are:
- a CSIRO-devised Sensornet that produces a ‘living map’ of soil moisture, temperature and conductivity,
- weather and air temperature information;
- a live-satellite pasture monitoring system developed by Landgate;
- wireless cattle tracking via Taggle ear tags and GPS collars;
- GPS-based quad-bike monitoring systems;
- a walk-over weighing system; and even
- a virtual fence prototype.
Soil data, for example, can be used to determine precise water and fertiliser requirements, boosting crop and pasture yields while significantly reducing water consumption and shrinking the farm’s carbon footprint; tracking and pasture data will be used to increase livestock production and make more effective use of grazing land.
The project partners are using SMART Farm to evaluate the impact of all these new technologies and intelligent systems on farm productivity, profitability, safety and sustainability, determining their potential benefits and, if they prove successful in the test context, helping to accelerate their adoption by farmers around Australia.