Plans to develop code of practice for autonomous vehicles

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Grain Producers Australia plans to develop a world-first code of practice for autonomous vehicles in 2020

This autonomous tractor, and technologies like it, is becoming more popular. Image courtesy Alamy
This autonomous tractor, and technologies like it, is becoming more popular. Image courtesy Alamy

Suggestions are being sought from Australian agricultural bodies as Grain Producers Australia looks to develop a code of practice for the use of automation technologies in future farming.

Automation technology, including the use of robots, are becoming increasingly popular in precision agriculture, with US-based market intelligence firm Tractica predicting that global shipments of agricultural robots will grow from about 60,000 in 2018 to over 727,000 by 2025.

Senior analyst Glen Sanders predicts this will drive a total annual market value of US$87.9 billion worldwide by 2025.

"Robots and automation technologies have the potential to dramatically improve crop quality and yields, reduce the amount of chemicals used, solve labour shortages, and provide hope for the economic sustainability of smaller farming operations," he says.

Speaking at the annual Society for Precision Agriculture Symposium, held in Launceston in September, GPA representative and SPAA committee member Rohan Rainbow said studies of digital agriculture predicted potential returns of $878 million for the grains industry through reduced labour costs.

"An additional $91 million return would come from reduced chemical use through improved targeted application using sensing and automation," he says.

But while these technologies will revolutionise the agricultural industry, they will also have an impact on regional communities, as well as the skills future farm workers will need to work with them.

Further to this, Rainbow says, the agriculture industry will need to trust the technologies before anyone can build a commercial pathway to using them.

To do this, the GPA is taking a leaf out of the mining industry’s book, developing a code of practice with manufacturer investment and input from producer and industry organisations.

The group is seeking the participation of other field-based plant industries, as well as agricultural chemical and machine manufacturers, in developing the process. "It is essential that a proactive approach is led by producers to ensure social and regulatory confidence in successful, risk managed adoption is maintained," Rainbow says.

GPA chairman Andrew Weidemann says he hopes an Australian code of practice about the next steps of commercialising autonomous technologies will help to manage these effects.

"We can create an investment model that can facilitate investment and continue to get the autonomy component of agriculture moving forward," he says.

The Code of Practice is expected to be delivered by March 1st 2020 for presentation to government and wider industry stakeholders.

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