AgTech Weekly News Dashboard: 5th June 2020

In this edition of the weekly news dashboard powered by AgTech Finder...

AgTech Finder shares a few tips for how to get started when researching soil moisture monitoring devices, we reveal how robots armed with UV lights can fight pathogens on a variety of crops including grapes, and we scratch the surface of a technology that is making a big difference for a dairy near Bulahdelah.

Three Questions to Ask Yourself When Shortlisting Soil Moisture Monitoring Devices

Considering installing soil moisture monitoring devices on your property? There are a few questions you should be asking yourself as you research your options on AgTech Finder. The type of soil moisture monitoring equipment you choose to buy should be based on more than just the cost of the equipment.

Read this article for some tips on how to research exactly what is going to be suitable for your property. As you shortlist options that you think are right for you, ask yourself some of these important questions, or contact the vendor to ask for their recommendation based on the problems you're trying to solve, the costs you're looking to save, or profits you want to make.

Read the full article | 4min

Where can Victorian producers access up-to-date Soil Moisture Information?

The Victorian Government has announced improvements to the Soil Moisture Monitoring Program as it continues to support farm businesses impacted by drought and dry seasonal conditions.

The new set-up will mean easier and quicker access and the improved search function will allow farmers to distinguish between crop types being monitored, pasture and soil types and locations – all which influence soil moisture data.

Until now, the data had been only available via a monthly e-newsletter subscription or by using a verified login. New tools featured on the platform will translate the data into real-time local information. These tools include a temperature gauge, current soil moisture profile and a one to three-month rainfall outlook for Victoria.

The improvements will also enable more farmers to see the daily ‘Speedo soil moisture graphs’, which are a real time soil moisture percentage measure. These graphs are an important tool for farmers experiencing increasingly variable climatic conditions, specifically rainfall to make timely decisions.

Farmers can subscribe to the Agriculture Victoria Soil Moisture Monitoring e-newsletter to get further information and analysis of data. The new Soil Moisture Monitoring program portal can be found at agriculture.vic.gov.au/soilmoisturemonitoring.

This article first appeared as 'More Soil Moisture Information At Farmers’ Fingertips', Miragenews.com, June 4th 2020

How can robots armed with UV light fight grape mildew?

Robots fitted with ultraviolet light lamps that roam vineyards at night are proving effective at killing powdery mildew, a devastating pathogen for many crops, including grapes.

Researchers at Cornell AgriTech in Geneva, New York, have partnered with SAGA Robotics in Norway to develop the first commercial robotic units, and the autonomous vehicle robots will appear on the market this year.

“For Chardonnay grapes, we’ve got effective suppression of powdery mildew over a period of two years, with treatments once a week,” said David Gadoury, senior research associate in the Department of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology at Cornell Agritech, who leads the project.

The UV-light technique is a breakthrough against powdery and downy mildew, which can adapt to chemical antifungal sprays in a single season, costing chemical companies hundreds of millions of dollars in development, along with environmental impacts.

The UV light robot named Thorvald, applies treatment on grape vines in a Cornell AgriTech research field at night.

“A typical grape grower will spray chemical fungicides for powdery mildew management between 10 and 15 times each year,” said Cadle-Davidson, who is also an adjunct assistant professor in Cornell’s Department of Plant Pathology.

Powdery mildews have co-evolved with the plants they attack over millions of years and often develop resistance to chemical treatments very quickly. But their evolution has also given them an Achilles heel: adaptation to natural cycles of light and dark.

UV light damages DNA though many organisms have developed biochemical defenses against this damage, which is triggered by blue light found in sunlight.

“What makes it possible for us to use UV to control these plant pathogens is we apply it at night,” Gadoury said. “At night, the pathogens don’t receive blue light and the repair mechanism isn’t working.”

At the same time, the researchers use lamps that deliver a low dose of UV light, killing the pathogen without harming the plant. The technique has also proven effective against downy mildew and some insect pests.

In earlier trials, researchers used an array of UV lamps mounted on a tractor wagon. But the method is less practical due to the all-night labor required to treat a vineyard. The robots are autonomous vehicles fitted with 8-by-4-foot arrays.

Cadle-Davidson is also developing imaging technology in partnership with scientists at Carnegie Mellon University that will detect and quantify mildew on grape leaves.

First published as 'Robots armed with UV light fight grape mildew' farmers', Cornell University AgriTech, New York, 3rd June 2020

Does robotic technology for dairy really make a difference?

A remotely triggered hard-bristle brush that scratches the backs of cows plays a major part in the operation of a solar-powered robotic dairy on the New South Wales Mid North Coast.

It was during a family gathering several years ago that John and Kay Smith decided to make changes at one of their two farms on the outskirts of Bulahdelah.

Mr Smith said the traditional "10-a-side Herringbone" dairy system was inefficient.

"It was costing us time and money, " said Mr Smith.

"Our first thought was what could we do to upgrade that dairy."

Cows' production and health monitored

It is the middle of the day and some of the herd are walking through a series of gates heading to the milking bays in the Swedish-built technology. The key to getting a cow to enter the dairy is a brush the animal pushes up against that triggers a rub along its back and flanks. The cows stop to enjoy the sensation before heading to the milking bays. Once in, they start feeding while a laser checks their udders. Warm water is sprayed to clean their teats, and a mechanised arm puts the cups on.

During the milking, a computer gives real-time readings of output and compares it to the cow's average. This enables close monitoring of the cow's health and checks for potential problems. Once finished, the cows leave through a series of gates channelling them to another paddock.

Solar does its job

All of this is achieved with the use of solar power. Consultant Nick Bullock has worked closely with the family says a key part of the design was using solar panels on the roof to replenish batteries.

"It was a question of getting the right components and right people to design the system, " Mr Bullock said.

"It's not a question of buying a chiller off the shelf.

"With a conventional dairy you have a spike in the early morning and again in the afternoon of energy use.

"With this, we can shift energy use around."

First published as 'Hands-free, solar-powered robotic dairy changes life for a NSW dairying family', ABC News, June 4th 2020

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