Welcome to AgTech Harvest, the weekly news dashboard powered by AgTech Finder.
Our featured story this week is from Queensland where a cattle producer shares the costs and benefits of using AgTech to monitor watering points on remote livestock properties.
We also bring you a story about solar powered solutions to improve trough water quality for livestock, we have an opinion piece about the role AgTech will play in lifting the nation out of economic downturn, and we look at connectivity options for pastoralists in remote areas.
Queensland Livestock Producers Get Tech Savvy
A cattle producer in Central Queensland has identified animal welfare as an unexpected benefit of new water management technology.
Sensors and cameras on water tanks, dams, bore, troughs and turkey nests are already saving this producer time and money and proving to be a good return on investment. The technology is also helping manage the livelihood of livestock.
In a collaborative project with Meat & Livestock Australia, Vodafone and Hitachi Consulting, Will Wilson of Calliope Station, teamed up with several agtech vendors including farm management software, remote connectivity, and water sensor providers listed on AgTechFinder.com...
What AgTech can help keep livestock trough water oxygenated, and free from algae?
A SOLUTION to the long-running problem of keeping the water in troughs clean looks to have been found, thanks to some applied technology in the way livestock water is managed.
Trough Pumping Systems principal Chris Grieger has been working on the challenge of not only keeping troughs clean in both feedlot and paddock conditions, but also improving the quality of the water.
The solution has been in many cases to treat 'hard' water using a tried and tested magnetic water softening machine where necessary, but also to keep water constantly moving to aerate and oxygenate.
Magnetic water softening machines are widely used in domestic applications, particularly to enable soap to lather and to reduce the damage to household plumbing fittings.
"There's two parts to this big challenge for the cattle and sheep industries," Mr Grieger said.
"It's about keeping the water clean, and equally, improving the quality of the water that the animals are drinking.
"What is clear is that the better the quality of the water, the better animals perform."
The breakthrough in managing water in troughs lies in the use of a circulation system powered by an 18V solar-powered pump. This system keeps the water constantly in motion and, importantly, keeps the water oxygenated.
"Most bore water has low levels of oxygen, and also in warm water, the oxygen is rapidly depleted," Mr Grieger said.
"Once that occurs, the environment is perfect for the rapid growth of algae and other potentially nasty pathogens."
Mr Grieger said constantly circulating water also helped to address the problems created by what was blown into the trough by wind and what was dropped in the troughs by the animals themselves.
"It's amazing how much mucus and debris cattle can deposit," he said.
Mr Grieger stressed that even troughs with constantly circulating water needed to be cleaned regularly, particularly in summer.
"It may lengthen the time between cleans, but the important thing is consistently high water quality."
"Algae is obviously a big problem in all trough types because it affects water quality and that affects the performance of livestock," Mr Grieger said. "However, the problem, particularly in galvanised troughs, is that the copper sulphate treatments react with the zinc in the protective gal coating."
Mr Grieger said by constantly circulating the water in the trough, the water remained aerated, which dramatically inhibited algae growth. The result was, in some cases, a doubling of the lifespan of a galvanised trough.
The system has been trialed for up to three years in both sheep and cattle feedlots as well as paddocks and is expected to be available in mid-July.
First published as 'Clean water creating a big stir in livestock troughs' Queensland Country Life, 10 June, 2020
What role will AgTech play in lifting the nation out of economic downturn?
Australian agriculture as a whole and ag-tech in particular will play a vital role in lifting the nation out of the current COVID-19 inspired economic downturn.
This is the view of Justin Webb, the developer of livestock management software business AgriWebb.
"We have talked about the importance of agriculture internally, but now, with modelling showing agriculture delivers 12 per cent of Australia's GDP when including processing and retail, it is hopefully time the broader community sees the opportunities," Mr Webb said.
"Ag is 3-5pc of GDP, up to 12pc when you factor in processing, so there is no good reason that agriculture can't be the backbone of our economy and help the nation navigate through the headwinds we face at present," he said.
"We need to acknowledge ag is one of our most resilient industries and that it can play just as an important a role in Australia's recovery as mining, as construction."
He said ag-tech would play a role in unlocking further value within the agricultural supply chain.
"We have a look at our nearby export markets and everybody is familiar with the story of the growing middle class in Asia, but to maximise the potential earnings in this area we need to look at areas like traceability and that is where ag-tech can play a big role."
Mr Webb said there were tech solutions to allow farmers to conduct traceability compliance without create an unnecessary workload.
"It is about turning things into a positive and if you have products that require no additional work on your behalf but can help you establish serious traceability and sustainability credentials then that can only be of benefit."
"Industries like dairy and beef cattle can get a bad rap but you look at what we are achieving here in Australia in terms of regenerative grazing, it is one of the few spaces in ag that you can recapture good volumes of carbon."
Moving forward, Mr Webb put the acid on Australia's ag-tech sector to deliver solutions in line with producer expectations.
"Tech is only useful when it is solving a problem, there's a misnomer about farmers that they aren't tech savvy, they do like tech, they just don't like tech that doesn't add any value."
"From my perspective, it is great that a cocky can get a drone to pick up the mail, but I think what they would really value is a single dashboard that pulled together all sorts of information, like animal weights, pastures and treatments and created data that can deliver actionable insights, where you can see what it cost to produce a kilo of meat and where the costs were incurred."
Mr Webb said ag-tech was not just about compliance.
"There are real productivity gains to be made, we have found that with our record keeping farmers are having a 20-30pc drop in lamb mortality rates, that is enough to make a serious difference to their bottom line."
First published as 'Ag tech's big role in Australia's economic recovery', Queensland Country Life, 18th June 2020
What are the benefits of using sensing systems to monitor and manage water-use efficiency?
CSIRO and Queensland-based agtech company Goanna Ag have announced a partnership that will see sensors and analytics be used to help growers better understand how to maximise the use of irrigation water to grow crops.
Under the partnership, Goanna Ag will incorporate WaterWise, a CSIRO-developed technology, into its existing GoField irrigation management system.
The WaterWise system features in-field sensors that measure the canopy temperature of crops every 15 minutes. The data collected from the sensors are then combined with weather forecasts before machine learning is applied to help predict the crop's water requirements for the next seven days.
"Being able to predict when to irrigate will allow our clients -- farmers -- to plan based on what the plant needs," Goanna Ag CEO Alicia Garden said.
Waterwise team leader Rose Brodrick added growers will be able to predict future water needs of their crops.
"Just like humans, plants have an optimum temperature. When things are normal it's easier to predict when a plant will need water. But when conditions change -- like with a new crop, a new field, or unusually hot or cold weather forecasted -- farmers want backup with their decision making," she said.
"The usual strategy is 'if you're unsure, just add water'. This is where using high tech can help give them data and more confidence in their decision making, because every drop counts."
The partnership follows trials of Goanna Ag's canopy sensor in CSIRO's tomato fields in Victoria.
Goanna Ag expects the system that incorporates WaterWise to be commercially available in time for the 2020 summer cropping season.
Meanwhile, CSIRO said it plans to expand WaterWise's in-field based canopy sensors to drones or satellites.
Earlier this year, one of Australia's largest horticulturist companies, Costa Group, began rolling out an artificial intelligence system to better understand and manage the quantity and quality of its berry crops.
The Sensing+ system, developed by Sydney-based company The Yield, has been designed to measure 14 variables of a typical agriculture model such as rain, light, wind, temperature, and soil moisture in real time. The information is then ingested into an Internet of Things platform and combined with existing data sets shared by Costa before AI is applied to create a localised prediction of each berry crop.
The system was installed within the polytunnels of Costa's eight berry farms in New South Wales, Queensland, and Tasmania.
First published as 'Agtech Australian first: more crop per drop', FoodMag.com.au, 18th June 2020
What is on the horizon to improve connectivity for pastoralists with remote properties?
Connectivity remains a barrier for many northern producers when it comes to collecting data and managing livestock, but an MLA‑funded project has revealed that many new solution will continue to emerge over the next few years.
The project, instigated by producers and telecommunications consultancy GHD assessed the suitability of currently available and emerging technology which could help improve connectivity to northern properties.
Mobile phone and internet coverage around homesteads as well as communications, cameras and sensor technologies out in the paddock were assessed, and while for many remote properties there were only limited technology solutions available in the marketplace at the moment, the outlook continues to become more promising.
“Data requirements vary for different uses – for example, a camera stream requires a lot more data than voice does,” Bryce said.
Where the 4G mobile network is available, it provides a cheap option to run technology. Where no mobile network is available, the next option is to look at satellite services.
“Incremental improvements in the National Broadband Network Sky Muster and 4G cellular plans provide a useful stopgap in the interim for pastoralists across northern Australia.”
Northern beef producer Mick Hewett, Hewett Cattle Australia, was part of the project and went on to say that northern producers are excited about using new and emerging technologies to advance operations, but leveraging them into remote areas is a challenge due to the connectivity issues.
“The project provided insight into future options such as low-orbit satellite,” he said. “It was also beneﬁcial to get an analysis of the costs associated with different connectivity solutions and how well they would work across the extensive distances stations cover.”
Bryce said while pastoralists do have the option of building their own networks, the cost can be prohibitive.
“Before signing up to building your own network, it’s worth waiting to see how the new services perform – if they deliver on what they’re promising, many ag-tech opportunities will open up.”
What are the advantages of using aerial vehicles for pest surveillance and to monitor crop growth?
In recent months, food security concerns have emerged for nations across Africa, Asia and the Middle East as swarms of desert locusts wreak havoc on crops.
While the same level of damage are not currently being felt in Australia, the threat of infestations extends to us too. But drone technology is offering up solutions.
According to the FAO, a swarm of about 40 million desert locusts can eat the same amount of food in one day as about 35,000 people. Swarms can be as large as several hundred square kilometres, with as many as 80 million adults per square kilometre.
A review of records by the Australian Plague Locust Commission has reported eight large outbreaks in Australia since 1930. Each state and territory of Australia has been affected by plague locusts at some point in the past, with outbreaks having occurred in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. The latest April bulletin shows limited outbreaks in New South Wales.
In Australia, locusts are generally controlled by aerial spraying of pesticides from light aircraft. One solution may be to destroy eggs by ploughing in crops or pastures, but there’s no conclusive data on how effective this is.
Drones, however, are now considered a better solution than the more expensive use of light aircrafts. These aerial vehicles can be used to remotely sense areas, carry out pest surveillance and monitor crop growth.They also allow for targeted pesticide application through atomiser sprayers that deliver a fine, even spray from liquid.
The use of drones is supported by a growing body of research on their use for pest monitoring and management, with several Australian agricultural consultancy companies offering drone services for crop and soil monitoring and state and federal agricultural agencies also using drones for crop, disease and pest monitoring.
There are of course some limitations when it comes to using drones to tackle locust problems. Drones don’t perform well in areas that are densely packed with locusts, due to damage to propellers. And while the technical specifications of drones have made rapid improvements over the past few years, they still only provide a limited load of insecticide for spraying.
The duration of flying time for drones is also usually less than an hour. Flying a drone also requires a degree of expertise, and any commercial drone flying requires certification from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
However, with ongoing locust infestations, a rise in extreme weather events, and COVID-19, smart agtech solutions including aerial vehicles to help manage and monitor insect pests are worth looking into to if you want to invest in protecting your business income for decades to come.
First published as 'Huge locust swarms are threatening food security' The Mandarin, 18th June 2020
How do sensors and probes help croppers make better decisions?
AgTech trials are underway at Gilgrandra, New Mollyan and Forbes as broadacre croppers look to increase the amount of data they have access to when making critical, and at times expensive, decisions about their crops.
Common in irrigated crops, capacitance soil moisture probes are being used in the trials with Central West Local Land Services agronomist Tim Bartimote being engaged to share his experience with capacitance probes in the irrigated cotton industry.
The probes are sunk to about a metre depth and can then have multiple sensors spaced within the probe. They are solar powered with a night-time battery backup and can be moved by two people within a couple of hours.
The sensors can read soil moisture, temperature and identify where the roots of crops are potentially where a crop is drawing moisture and nutrients from.
The probes can send updates every 15 minutes to an hour and can be read via mobile phone or a work station on farm.
Mr Bartimote is confident use of the probes can deliver more data for croppers to help with seasonal decision making, including nitrogen application, crop sequencing and yield estimates.
"We want to show producers how the soil moisture probes work, what information they provide and the benefits of an additional layer of data in the decision-making process," Mr Bartimote said.
"At New Mollyan moisture monitoring in a conventional fallow and a barley cover crop ahead of sorghum will provide a comparison on the effects of cover cropping to soil moisture, final summer crop yield and profitability.
"In-crop probes in barley and wheat at Gilgandra will demonstrate the value of mapping moisture use through growth stages across the season to make crop-nutrition decisions and predict yield.
First published as 'Probes push into dryland broadacre cropping', The Land, 21 June 2020
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