Farmers in the Australian state of Victoria have been promised a $15 million financial and technological boost that is expected to be “a game-changer” for the agricultural sector.
The funding is intended to help farmers deploy robotics, wireless networks, sensors, and analytics solutions to capitalise on the enormous potential of connected technologies to make agriculture smarter and more efficient.
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With rising labour costs, and with utilities and supplies bills soaring, farmers are increasingly looking at how emerging technologies can help sustain their businesses. However, many come with heavy upfront costs: networks need to be installed and expensive hardware needs to be purchased.
From harvesting robots to drone-assisted aerial surveys and field sensors, the vision of the connected farm is an appealing one. But getting to that stage can require a joint effort, often between one farm and another, but also between the state and agricultural communities.
The Victoria government has announced $15 million of IoT-focused funding, and trials will begin in the regions of Maffra, Birchip, Serpentine, and Tatura in July. The state previously made a $12 million investment into IoT and agtech as part of a demonstration trial in 2016-17.
Connecting Victoria’s farms
According to a statement from the Victoria government, the funding will be put towards a range of digital innovations. These include robotics, and the development of IoT networks, wireless technology, biotechnology, and virtual fencing.
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Sensors and IoT networks will be installed for both farmer and public access. These will provide insights on weather and soil conditions, creating benefits across the dairy, grain, sheep, and horticulture sectors.
Farms right across the state will install sensors and connected devices as part of the project. The data generated will be uploaded to a central system for analysis, and be accessible via a software platform that will enable farmers throughout the region to make more informed decisions.
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Victoria’s minister for agriculture, Jaala Pulford, said: “Victoria is the agtech hub of Australia, and with this investment, we are looking at being a world leader. Our farmers deserve the very best tools to get the job done and digital innovation is at the heart of this. We’re proud to play our part in making this a reality.”
“This Internet of Things Demonstration Trial is an important step in maximising technology to help provide Victorian agriculture with a competitive advantage on a global scale,” she added.
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Internet of Business says
Despite being one of the oldest industries, farming is at the forefront of IoT, robotics, and big data applications. The reasons are manifold, and include the challenges of seasonal labour, soaring costs, climate change, unpredictable weather, changing consumer demands, and international competition.
The IoT’s mix of smart hardware, AI, sensors, and data analytics mean that farmers can gain real insights into how efficiently and sustainably their farms are operating, gather data over time – and in real time – and ensure that crops and livestock are developing in ideal conditions and are being properly fed and watered.
For example, drones can offer multispectral imaging from the air, and direct autonomous farm machinery to areas that need irrigation and fertilisation. Meanwhile, sensor networks in the ground can monitor crop and climate conditions and, via AI, machine learning, and analytics, help farmers to build up a comprehensive and predictive picture of how well the land is performing.
Meanwhile, the same technologies are helping farms move into cities, closer to the mouths that need feeding. High-tech startups such as Aerofarms are using sensors and big data technologies to grow crops indoors, using smart lighting and chemical engineering to create the ideal conditions for crops to flourish.