Farming 2.0: Scientists are using space technologies to manage cattle

In one of the coolest projects to come out of 2020, large herds of water buffalo in Northern Australia are being tracked with space technology. Image: Shutterstock.

More than 1000 wild buffalo and unmanaged cattle roaming Northern Australia will be tagged and tracked as part of the world’s largest satellite herd-tracking program.

In the last decade food and farming careers have had a major overhaul.

Thanks to game-changing tech developments – like sophisticated tracking capabilities and satellite geo-positioning systems – jobs in agriculture are no longer exclusive to the tractor-driving, flannel wearing stereotype. STEM-fluent experts are revolutionising the AgTech space, and there are more opportunities than ever in smart, tech-focused farming.

One of the most exciting AgTech projects to come out of 2020 was announced this week by the CSIRO to kickstart National Reconciliation Week. The $4 million, 3.5 year program aims to use space satellite technologies to tag and track thousands of destructive buffalo and unmanaged cattle roaming Northern Australia, and turn them into economic, environmental and cultural opportunities for local Indigenous communities.

RELATED: Harvesting good data with digital agriculture

Satellite GPS-tracking tags will be attached to the animals’ ears and deliver real-time, geographically-accurate insights into herd density, accessibility, and transport costs.

They’ll be tracked across a combined area of 22,314 square kilometres, taking in the Arafura swamp catchment in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, and Upper Normanby and Archer River on Cape York Peninsula in Queensland.

In a statement, CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall stressed that the program demonstrated the opportunities for Australia in growing our own space capabilities and supply chains while also advancing reconciliation.

Worth the wait? The Kineis nanosatellite is planned for launch in 2022. Image: David Ducros.

“Australia’s burgeoning space industry is creating exciting new possibilities for innovative science and technology to solve our greatest challenges, like using satellites to manage our wide, open land in more culturally and environmentally sensitive ways,” Larry said.

“This unique partnership is a reminder that the new frontier of space is an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of our past, and work alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to ensure that space-enabled technology is being put to best use to improve the land we all share.

“The benefits of space should be available to all Australians, which is why we and our partners will make the schematics, software and code that power the system publicly available for free under creative commons, so other communities can also benefit.”

RELATED: Hungry for a career in food and farming? The STEM opportunities are endless

Group effort

One of the coolest things about the program is that it’s like a large-scale group assignment.

The collaborative program has STEM experts from loads of different organisations, offering up their niche skills, resources and expertise.

Among those involved are the CSIRO and Charles Darwin University developing the data management tools; James Cook University creating the GPS-tracking ear tags; satellite company Kineis providing access to their satellite fleet and the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance Ltd (NAILSMA) driving efforts on the ground in partnership with Mimal Land Management Aboriginal Corporation, Aak Puul Ngangtam Ltd, and Normanby Land Management.

The project is being funded by Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment under the National Landcare Program; Smart Farming Partnerships initiative.

Psyched on space tech and satellite data? Check out The Gravity Challenge.

Cassie Steel

Author: Cassie Steel

As Refraction’s digital editor, Cassie Steel spends her days researching robots and stalking famous scientists on Twitter.

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