Computer science can help cultivate the food, fuels and fibres of the future through smart agriculture.
With the world’s population tipped to hit 8.5 billion by 2030, the race is on to find technologies to feed and clothe the growing number of people on the planet. The challenge: find high-tech solutions to revolutionise farming techniques so agriculture becomes more reliable, higher yielding and more efficient.
Dr David Lamb is professor of physics and precision agriculture at the University of New England in Armidale, NSW, where he also runs the 3000 ha SMART Farm project. He says that as technology becomes easier to operate and coding skills more widespread we will see a revolution in agriculture.
“Mass-market, cheap price-point gear speeds up the adoption of technology because it encourages people to experiment,” David says.
Tasmanian farmer James McShane turned to computer science to run his sheep and cattle farm, teaming up with programmer Tim Bendall to create Farmware, a smartphone app that lets farmers record information such as livestock records, grazing and paddock usage, animal treatment records, crop performance and storage inventories.
Scientists at James Cook University and the CSIRO are trialling a Digital Homestead platform that will let cattle producers reduce costs by an estimated 20%. Using technology like walk-over weighing scales, satellite images, GPS collars and weather stations, the system integrates data from in-farm wireless sensor networks with external information from the weather bureau and livestock markets.
Revolutionary agri-tech businesses include South Australia’s Sundrop Farms, which produces more than 15,000 tonnes of vegetables a year for domestic consumption in Australia, using highly engineered sensor-controlled hydroponic systems.
– Brendan Fitzpatrick
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