Do more with less: the role of technology in SMART and sustainable farming

The challenges and expectations of farmers today couldn’t be greater. There’s the impact of climate change through prolonged droughts and extreme weather events; the scarcity of water and arable land; the need for environmental sustainability, improved safety and ethical practices; and the demand for quality produce. All these considerations need to be managed while remaining economically viable in a highly competitive local and global market.

With the world’s population projected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, it is estimated global food production must rise by 60%. Farmers and food producers have had no other choice but to think differently and adopt innovative solutions to increase yields while also reducing productions costs.

Agriculture science, agronomy and technology are providing the solutions to these challenges in farming. New practices in ‘SMART farming’ are maximising productivity and profit while minimizing environmental damage, and giving us the best chance of feeding a more populated world.

Australian farmers have always looked for ways to improve the way they farm, and are now utilising the latest technology and Ag science. Remote automated irrigation systems are efficiently managing precious water resources. Soil moisture monitors and drone sensors provide accurate data, not only on the moisture levels in soil, but also soil temperature, nutrient levels, and the condition of crops.

Sophisticated data analysing systems, with GPS technology located on Cloud platforms, receive sensing and monitor data transmitted by nodes. Diagnostic results and actionable data is then relayed back to computers and hand held devices. Farmers can remotely activate the precise volume of irrigation to exactly where it is needed for each crop type.

Automated farm machinery such as self-driving tractors aided by artificial intelligence and GPS mapping are performing repetitive, labour-intensive tasks with precision at any time of the day. In a departure from ever larger and more expensive farm machinery, the driverless tractor is just the beginning in an evolution in farming robotics. Fleets of much smaller and lighter autonomous units will operate simultaneously on the same paddock or crop, reducing the time taken. Additionally, because the soil is compacted far less, the need to till is reduced, which alleviates soil erosion.

Livestock farmers are also engaging technology to help them raise healthier animals, increase scale and profitability. Animal tech wearables allow farmers to track and monitor livestock. Examples include microphones, accelerometers, and GPS trackers enabling temperature, glucose, and skin conductivity to be monitored. The early detection of sickness, injury and disease allows farmers to intervene sooner, improving the overall health of the herd or flock.

SuniTAFE is working in partnership with industry, sector experts, Agtech developers, university resources, and local growers to develop its SMART Farm. These relationships ensure SuniTAFE keeps in step with the advances in digital farming practices. SuniTAFE’s state-of-the-art, purpose built SMART Farm is preparing digitally-literate graduates with skills ready to operate new farm technology and systems. It also serves as a ‘live’ site to test crops and technology in an environment of collaboration.

SuniTAFE understands the many challenges faced by industry and local growers, and we are committed to helping the region transition to new technologies that will make food production more sustainable, profitable and capable of producing more with less.