GFIA Wrap-up

By: Andrew Hobbs

Presented by

We recently stopped by the first ever Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture (GFIA) In Focus Australia event, held in Brisbane

TThe first GFIA in Brisbane was a success

Australia’s largest agricultural innovation trade fair, GFIA, had a strong focus on controlled environments and precision farming. Here are some of the interesting innovations on show in the exhibition.

UBCO 2x2 side on
The UBCO 2x2s have attracted major interest among dairy farmers

UBCO BIKES

It’s no Harley – but it doesn’t need to be.

UBCO’s electric-powered off-road and dual use 2X2s attracted a lot of interest at GFIA as a hard-wearing vehicle ideal for dairy work.

Weighing 63kg, the bikes get a maximum range of 120km on a six-hour charge time and have a carrying capacity of 150kg, including the rider.

Powered by a 48Ah lithium-ion battery that drives a 1.2kW brushless motor in each wheel hub, the bikes are the first in the company range to be street-legal, able to be driven on roads as a LA (moped) class vehicle, reaching a top speed of 50km/h with 2.4kWh of power.

Distributed in Australia by Daviesway, sales representative Brendan Johnson says the bikes were designed for use by New Zealand dairy farmers, built with a hard-wearing 7000 alloy material.

"We got involved in them because they are silent, they are lightweight and if ridden correctly they will be a safer way to move stock around than quad bikes and that sort of thing," he says.

But the bikes had also proven popular with hunters and in the recreational market – because of the limited noise they make and their ease of transport.

The bikes also boast an integrated ECU connection that directly controls lighting, motor controllers, display and rider controls, as well as providing a Bluetooth connection to the bike, which can be controlled through an app.

This enables an operator to limit the maximum accessible speed on a vehicle for inexperienced riders, as well as a hunting mode, regenerative braking and GPS plotting, Johnson explains.

"So you can turn this on and the bike will intermittently send a signal back to UBCO HQ – if someone came off the bike or had an accident, you would be able to locate it and hopefully be able to locate the rider from there," he says.

"Diagnostics, any updates or changes, it is all just downloadable through an app – instead of taking your bike in for a service you can pull your phone out and give it a service and a run over and away you go." 

MIt is hoped that the Ceres Tags will never need a new battery while the animal they monitor is alive
It is hoped that the Ceres Tags will never need a new battery while the animal they monitor is alive

CERES TAG

Developers of the GPS-enabled Ceres Tag were about to embark on a new series of trials that could see it begin commercial sales sometime in 2020.

Taking place at the CSIRO’s Landsdown Research Station in North Queensland in December, the 150 tag trial tested the company’s battery life, connectivity and its high-retention system, designed to be easy to apply and difficult to remove.

Recent developments also mean that the eartags can connect directly to a low-earth orbit satellite – eliminating the need for ground-based infrastructure to be installed.

Ceres Tag CEO David Smith says the next trial will be on 500 animals on Aileron Pastoral Holdings’ 408,200 hectare property in the Northern Territory, 150km north of Alice Springs.

"After that we will be starting the MLA’s accreditation process, organising the manufacturing and first sales expected in 2020," he says.

Graziers using the tags will be able to use the tags to monitor the movements of cattle as well as the temperatures they are facing.

"With the use of algorithms, we can help detect behaviour, health, biosecurity, reproduction and heat stress," Smith says.

"If the activity is below normal it might mean the animal is dead or ill. It will also send an alert if the animal starts moving around a lot more than it normally does – say if it is being chased or is in oestrus.

"We can look at things like improving inefficiencies, pasture utilisation; we can look at asset registers for your actual livestock including helping with financing. If we can reduce risk both for the producer and the financiers, there is a significant value proposition for both parties," he says.

SureFire Agricultural’s QuickDraw automated chemical batching station can mean significant time savings on the ground
SureFire Agricultural’s QuickDraw automated chemical batching station can mean significant time savings on the ground

SUREFIRE AG QUICKDRAW

Distributed in Australia by AJS Machinery, SureFire Agricultural’s QuickDraw automated chemical batching station helps make chemical spraying processes significantly more efficient.

The machine can automatically meter either four or six products, with operators then entering the acreage to cover, the preferred litres per application rate and the total batch size.

Once this is done, the machine will calculate the amount of each chemical in the batch, including manually added chemicals, and keeps a log of every batch loaded – downloadable via iPad later for your records and easily repeatable where necessary.

AJS Machinery’s Ollie Smith says some users of the machine say the time savings the machines offer are enabling them to spray 30 per cent more area per day – which he says "means less hours on the machine and more money in your pocket".

Modular Farms uses LED lights to help grow leafy greens indoors.
Modular Farms uses LED lights to help grow leafy greens indoors.

MODULAR FARMS

The Brisbane-based hydroponic farms developer tells us their Modular Farm System has attracted a fair bit of interest of late as a boutique investment.

The system has plants growing inside one large 12.20m x 3.05m x 3.05m module, with lighting provided by 60 customisable two-sided LED lights.

While the company has had its best success to date with leafy greens, such as rocket, bok choy, lettuce and herbs; cherry tomatoes, cucumber and berries had also been grown inside the module.

And while it is designed to be portable on the back of a truck, company director James Pasteras is at pains to stress that the module is not a shipping container – saying those are "not ideal for plant growth or for controlling humidity in harsh environments".

The primary growing module is one of seven complementary units that can be combined to keep the farm operating, including vestibules, water capture and cold storage units, a sprout farm and microgrid and a macrofarm with wall-to-wall ZipGrow towers if needed.

Only the primary farm, vestibule and macrofarm units have been released to date, with the other modules in various stages of engineering, says.

The primary, macro and sprout modules require three-phase 50-amp service, using 130 amps at peak, and cost $148,500, $16,500 and $168,500 respectively.

"The costs of operating a farm will vary depending on your hydroelectricity rates and a few other variables," he says. "We estimate operating a farm will cost between $25,000 and $40,000 a year to operate."

That said, the farms can also be set up to grow more than one crop at a time, with the company citing harvest potential of 3,840 heads of lettuce per harvest, and estimating 13 harvests a year.

At $1.75 a head, this would equal $87,360 in revenue, the company says.

The Snaptrap provides a camera to monitor existing fruitfly traps
The Snaptrap provides a camera to monitor existing fruitfly traps

SNAPTRAP

In some cases, it’s best not to mess with a trusted formula – particularly if it’s been used for upwards of 30 years of research activity.

Snaptrap director Kim Khor says people have been trapping fruitflies in standard traps for upwards of 30 years and that historical data is still being used today for forward planning.

"We don’t need to change the whole system and turn things upside down – people can operate with what they are familiar with," he says.

Instead, Khor retrofits what he calls "a little box of electronics", including devices that record atmospheric metrics, temperature, humidity and air pressure, as well as a camera for surveillance of the existing fruitfly traps.

"A raw image gets up loaded and is reviewable by an agronomist or researchers. Hopefully in a lot of cases that will remove the need for a physical visit altogether," he says.

"The two main use cases are proving pest absence with positive evidence and the second is finishing operational decisions for growers and policy makers and biosecurity and so on."

Monitoring the weather conditions will help model the life cycle of the insects in question, enabling fruit growers to target vulnerabilities more accurately and thus reduce control costs, as well as helping to build an understanding of how insect populations move and adapt.

"We can also interpret the historical data with more clarity – we have got a case study where we are capturing evidence of ants entering the trap and stealing the bodies of the flies," he says.

"The manual inspection of the trap would reveal a very small number of catches when in reality it is about 10 times what the monitor is recording."

Ultimately, Khor hopes information provided by the Snaptrap can help to further refine precision control techniques for fruitflies – cutting the use of insecticides.

"We are selling it now, and we have got paying customers, but I still consider it a prototype and there is still a lot of refinement work – I would love for all of this to be essentially a mobile phone inside this plastic lid and look after itself in terms of power management," he says.

"We have got plans for it to progress through the various insects and hopefully optimise the value we are giving industry."

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