VIDEO: Smart Farms Tour brings you back to the future

By: Carene Chong, Photography by: Carene Chong, Guy Allen

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It’s hardly a secret smart technology is part and parcel of everyday life now, but how exactly is it making an impact on farming? Carene Chong takes a sneak peek into the future to find out.

The year is 2014 but on one balmy June morning in Toowoomba, Queensland, I hit the fast forward button to witness the future of farming where automation is the trend du jour.

As part of the University of Southern Queensland’s (USQ) Digital Rural Futures Conference, its agricultural research unit: the National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture (NCEA) held a ‘Smart Farms Tour’ in which attendees caught a glimpse of the centre’s current research projects for Australia’s farming industry.

NCEA Craig Baillie

NCEA Director Craig Baillie

Different facets of the sector such as irrigation, spraying and farm monitoring were touched upon at the event but a common theme was prominent – automation.

As demand for food and fibre increases year on year and farm operations get bigger as a result, producers are realising the need for more automatic systems smart enough to make decisions for them.

They need to free themselves up to focus on other aspects of the business such as ways to grow and expand.

"The technologies we’re looking at are really about helping people do more with less," NCEA Director Craig Baillie says.  

"These technologies don’t necessarily reduce labour, but rather move labour around the farm and if they work correctly, they should sit silently in the background and let people do their jobs more efficiently."

Smart Farms Video Capt

NCEA's prototype Smart Weed Spot Sprayer which uses imagery to tell weed from crop

Some technologies explored on the day included Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for farm surveillance purposes; smart weed spot sprayers; automated irrigation systems, as well as apps and software in development aiming  to assist farmers in their day-to-day tasks.

UAVs were flown and augmented reality technologies demonstrated to the sizeable crowd comprising experts, primary producers, agricultural students and industry newcomers such as myself.

I might not have understood the full extent of the topics covered but I know one thing for sure — minds, amateur and experienced alike, were left reeling from the millions of possibilities smart technology could potentially present to the agricultural industry.

However, Baillie says it will take some time before the developments can be presented to the market.

"There are so many kinds of technology being developed at such a rapid rate that we have to identify the technology that’s right for different circumstances," he says.

"We have to be really clear about what the issues affecting profitability on farm are and then selectively present technologies that will help famers maximise the outcomes."

Considering the NCEA’s history and its achievements so far, the future certainly seems promising.

"Technologies we’ve developed include some of the underpinning technologies for auto steer tractors which are arguably some of the greatest inventions in agriculture," Baillie confirms.

"Similarly we’ve developed a sugarcane harvesting technology, which is now sold globally, so those are great outcomes for a research centre that sits in a regional centre like Toowoomba."

For the full feature including details of the technologies demonstrated at the Smart Farms tour, pick up a copy of NewFarmMachinery magazine issue 12, on-sale August 11. Subscribe to the magazine to never miss an issue. 

NCEA Craig Baillie NCEA director Craig Baillie. NCEA Craig Baillie
Smart Farms Digital Rural Futures ConferenceJPG The Smart Farms tour was held as part of the USQ's Digital Rural Futures Conference. Smart Farms Digital Rural Futures ConferenceJPG
Smart Farms UAV Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are efficient farm surveillance tools. Smart Farms UAV
Smart Farms Tour smart weed spot sprayer The NCEA is currently developing an image-based smart weed spot sprayer capable of differentiating green weed from green crop. Smart Farms Tour smart weed spot sprayer
Smart Farms evaporation mitigation and augmented reality demo A prototype floating applicator for evaporation mitigation sits quietly on the water surface while NCEA senior research engineer Michael Scobie demonstrates the use of augmented reality in irrigation. Smart Farms evaporation mitigation and augmented reality demo
Smart Farms Tour penetrometer Precision Agriculture NCEA senior researcher Troy Jensen demonstrating the use of a penetrometer for data collection in the Precision Agriculture process. Smart Farms Tour penetrometer Precision Agriculture

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