AgTech to combat rising climate challenge

The rising impact of climate change now has modern farmers looking to technology to help them boost productivity in increasingly challenging situations.

South Australia has launched a plan to become a leader in AgTech with a focus on dryland agriculture. In August, the South Australian government announced a major partnership with the University of Adelaide. The goal is to reduce red tape and bridge the gap between academic research and commercial technologies.

The collaborative project is already underway. Through machine learning, they are able to interpret satellite imagery and identify grazing pressures in remote farming. All in real time! This will potentially replace a system that only assessed these regions once every seven years.

The collaboration will also give the universities’ scientists access to five state-owned research farms. This will bring a diverse range of academic knowledge to the agricultural sector. In fields such as mathematics, engineering and machine learning for the application of new technologies.

Picture: Antonio Gravante.

To encourage early adoption, two of the farms will have a trial run. farmers can then test the new AgTech inventions.

Moreover, agriculture is among South Australia’s largest industries. Thereby contributing almost $20 billion to the state’s economy. Also supporting 152,000 jobs in the 2017/18 financial year alone! However, South Australia is the driest state in Australia, the driest inhabited continent on Earth.

University of Adelaide Vice Chancellor Professor, Peter Rathjen said the university and South Australia has an opportunity to build on its global reputation. This will be on areas of cereal breeding, genomics, winemaking, viticulture and animal sciences and production.

“We want to not just produce food for consumption and export, as important as that might be, we want to produce knowledge in sustainable cereal production, water management, dryland farming systems and to do that by bringing to these pressing global problems new technologies and new collaborations,” said Rathjen.

This year, the University of Adelaide also launched ThincLab Waite. It’s business incubator is aiming specifically at startups in the AgTech food and wine sector.

AgTech industry experts met in South Australia last month to explore how AI, big data, biotech, robotics and other emerging technologies can drive efficiency and combat climate change.

University of Adelaide Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Rathjen.

The AgTech stream was part of the Southstart festival which brought together more than 1,000 entrepreneurs, investors, technologists, creative and industry experts from a range of fields.

Local companies making inroads in the AgTech space include:

  • Satellite communications business Myriota is becoming a global leader in nanosatellite Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity and is based at Lot Fourteen – an innovation precinct in the CBD of Adelaide, South Australia. Its projects announced this year include a partnership with Queensland AgTech business Goanna Ag. This project will unlock the power of remote monitoring. Additionally, a collaboration with Davey Water Products to add its IoT connectivity to Davey’s TankSense product range. This will enable farmers to receive water level data directly to their mobile phones.
  • Seed Terminator this year entered full production of its machines that pulverize weed seeds as grain crops. The Adelaide-based company has manufactured more than 100 units, which can be retrofitted to a variety of harvesters. More than 120 trials have been held in Australia, North America and Europe.
  • Adelaide startup ByGen has developed a low-cost technique for making activated carbon from agricultural waste ahead of a capital raising round to fund commercial production. Founders Lewis Dunnigan and Ben Morton established a pilot plant last year. They have experimented with a variety of widely available agricultural wastes. For example, almond shell, sawdust, grape marc and rice husks to produce high quality activated carbon.
  • Viticulture startup Taglog is expanding its digital labour management system designed to improve harvest efficiency for the Australian wine industry into other agriculture sectors. The RFID (radio frequency identification) system is accessible through a mobile app and uses cloud-based technology to track the productivity of pickers in the field to ensure they are paid correctly while holding them accountable for the quality of their work.

Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA) will also host Advance Ag – South Australia’s first AgTech showcase in February.

The Adelaide Showground event is on February 24. AgTech developers and industry leaders will discuss the latest thinking in AgTech innovation. Additionally, they will demonstrate its practical application and benefits on-farm through case studies.

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