The driving force of Smart Farming is the Internet of Things (IoT). This is the interconnection of digital equipment via the internet. Put simply, in the case of farming, this can mean the relay of data collected by sensors, sent through the internet to be immediately analysed with the results relayed back to a receiving computer or mobile device. These sensors, or actuators, measure a myriad of subject matter.
For instance, soil quality can be measured for its moisture content, nutrient balance, and detect the presence of insects or unwanted organisms. Software residing in a cloud platform analyses the health of the soil using models, prescribing a recommendation for requirements of water, fertiliser and pesticides per square metre. Remote controlled equipment, machines and devices optimise efficiency, productivity and safety.
The SuniTAFE SMART Farm will be a state-of-the-art, purpose-built and grown, training and research facility that will utilise the latest innovations and best practices of digital farming to transform the way horticulture training will occur in the future. Situated 16kms from Mildura CBD on Dairtnunk Avenue, the SMART Farm will re-purpose the Institute’s Cardross Farm, 55-hectares of prime agricultural land with an annual water entitlement of 402ML, including land at Swan Hill, and a Transporter Educational Unit.
Existing land will be allocated to commodities currently grown in the Sunraysia area, such as: almonds; olives; avocados; grapes; table grapes; citrus; and dried and wine fruit. In addition, land will be allocated for experimental purposes with new and emerging crops.
Crops will be planted in consultation with key stakeholders. This will allow for the best possible educational, research and production outcomes.
New technologies and efficiencies will be included in each allocated plot.
The SMART Farm will demonstrate new discovery technologies, provide industry and students with the skills and know-how for current and future digital farming jobs.
It will be an ‘open door’ facility where farmers, representative bodies, suppliers and researchers are welcome.
The facility will be a showcase for uncompromising excellence in horticulture, and will facilitate genuine industry engagement, collaboration and shared learning between sector experts. Importantly, our training programs will seek to engage school- leavers, career-changers and those already in the industry seeking new skills.
The concept for SuniTAFE’s SMART Farm has been developed through extensive industry consultation, international research, meetings with technology developers, University and Secondary School stakeholders.
Through the Victorian Government’s Workforce Training and Innovation Fund (WTIF) granted in 2018, SuniTAFE has been able to research and plan a digital farm training model. A scoping study is underway that identified 22 individual, yet complementary projects, which has become the start-up blueprint for SMART Farm. These projects include: Diploma and Certificate courses; various short courses; research; mentoring; and school programs.
Courtesy of the Workforce Training and Innovation Fund (WTIF), two project leaders have been appointed. Along with these positions, a Horticulture Innovation Advisory Group has been formed to implement, monitor and advise on the development and on-going operations of the Horticulture SMART Farm concept and the educational goals of SuniTAFE.
With many established partnerships in place with industry peak bodies, local producers, sector experts, and associated universities – gives the SuniTAFE SMART Farm access to a wealth of expertise and knowledge. This includes relationships with the Mallee Regional Innovation Centre (MRIC), La Trobe University’s Agri-bio facility at Bundoora, RMIT University’s Centre for Digital Excellence, and University of New England’s Smart Innovation Centre in Armidale.
The University of Melbourne, La Trobe University and SuniTAFE are partners to the Mallee Regional Innovation Centre, a $1.7million Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) announced in the 2018/19 Victorian Budget to drive research, innovation and development in ‘key’ sectors of renewables, engineering, agriculture, water management and sustainability. SuniTAFE’s SMART Farm and MRIC will complement each other’s work for the growth of high value, sustainable farming in our region.
SuniTAFE is also party to the Victorian Government’s Regional Food and Fibre Collaboration (RFFC), which is committed to aligning training to industry needs through joint projects and funding opportunities