At the heart of every farm is its people, their vision, the business structure, and planning, which drive the cropping practices. Business direction and plans require continual adaptation to opportunities that evolve from changing policies and regulations. New market opportunities such as export, biodiversity and Carbon, while external influences such as climate, market drivers and labour can affect production. Technology with the Internet of Things (IoT) is not only paving the way for insights into production, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Automated reporting, and for the Recovery and Resilience project the Hort360 tool is aimed at shaping change by improving practices to increase the triple bottom line through diversity and resilience on farm.
A question posed to an online AI program on what diversity and resilience practices are for farming suggested implementing strategies that promote soil health, biodiversity, and sustainable farming practices. These aim to enhance the resilience of farming systems to climate change, economic and market fluctuations, and environmental challenges. It is clear that at both a State and Federal level cost incentives, innovation and research targeting the above while reducing emissions are available to help diversify.
Complete business plans by setting goals, strengths and weaknesses, highlight risks, and actions to take to reach your vision. There could be further plans developed or refined aimed at environmental outcomes, disaster and recovery, retirement or succession and is the first step towards a diverse and resilient business.
Artificial Intelligence encompasses neural networks made up of layers of artificial neurons designed to imitate how the human brain works. A subfield of machine learning, neural networks lay the foundation for deep learning, which processes data in order to output a prediction. This could be across multiple datasets where simple and complex questions could be asked to provide information at your fingertips, IoT, Weather data, plant and project resources you might ask;
All this requires adaptation, and adoption for change. Just like economic path dependence mentioned in STORY 1 the same applies within people. Neuroscience has shown that within the human mind neuroplasticity is the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganisation. Effectively, rewiring old patterns results in change. Resilience also exists in neuroscience. Stress and trauma are common and can result in a variety of lasting pathologies. Most people show some degree of resilience to the negative effects of stressful or traumatic events. Studies have identified strategies that support brain and mental health. This might include parenting, community-based activity, meditation, and aerobic exercise.
There can be no argument that technology is fast shaping society although its use is increasingly important within business. Although, there will always be the human element and as uncomfortable as change can be it might lead to improved resilience. Which is important for both farming practices and our mental health, leading to Better Business!
AgriFutures Australia has announced Round 3 of its Producer Technology Uptake Program (PTUP). Sustainable Horticulture was awarded $20,000 to raise awareness of IoT technology for the Northern Rivers and Clarence Valley Macadamia growers. A LTE CAT M1 IoT Irradiation and Plant Health IoT package and cellular Energy monitoring devices were installed across three farms.
We were recently engaged to install a Plant health and Weather station at the NSW Alstonville DPI research facility to showcase some technology available to growers as part of the Farms of the Future Program. The program is due to commence in 2023 and requires growers to complete a Tocal course either in person or online, register HERE. Develop a Monitoring Plan for your business including a farm map, identification of pain points and addressing connectivity and Agtech device needs. The Monitoring Plan will act as a tool to assist you in developing your total farm connectivity and Agtech device solution.
Sustainable Horticulture has been awarded $20,000 as part of AgriFutures Australia’s Producer Technology Uptake Program to design bespoke projects to increase technology adoption on-farm.
Building on the success of the first two rounds, AgriFutures Australia has announced Round 3 of its Producer Technology Uptake Program (PTUP). Walkabout Ag was awarded $20,000 to raise awareness of IoT technology for our direct Horticultural growers group being predominately Macadamias.
PTUP aims to establish a national network of farmers, fishers and foresters that champion and accelerate innovation and practice change on-farm. The program works with well-connected producer groups who know and understand their local producers’ needs, including knowledge gaps, skills and experience that prevent them from implementing agtech innovation.
Sustainable Horticulture states that “This is a great opportunity for all farms in the Clarence Valley and Northern Rivers region to start there learning journey from this project and to adopt technology that is relevant to their site. For this region, farms in the Ballina, Byron and the Lismore LGAs will benefit further as the NSW Governments Farms of the Future (FoTF) grant program aligns with PTUPs vision to make agtech even more affordable. If there has been a time to adopt it is now.”
The third-round projects are focused on trialing a range of technologies covering areas such as moisture sensing, weather monitoring, digital irrigation, IoT (Internet of things), biosecurity, connectivity and weed detection. The themes of the programs are broad yet specific in application.
“We’re buoyed by the interest in the Program and are seeing the benefits of partnering with existing groups, who know their patch, but require support to bridge the gap between the opportunity and the tech solution – PTUP does just that,” added Ms Raufers.
The national initiative rolls-out program activities over a 12-month period to drive peer-to-peer learning and is delivered across three tranches: farm-tech capacity building planning workshops, tech adoption grants and access to an online Community of Practice (CoP).
To date, the Program has engaged 56 producer groups and 11 agricultural high schools, directly impacting 2,700 producers nationally, across many industries and enterprise sizes. The program has a footprint in all states and territories except for the Northern Territory.
The energy monitoring devices are being installed as we speak and our light irradiation, plant health and climate Cat M1 system is due any day now. We will be launching some factsheets and begin to gather data to inform some case studies and more.
Nature is in effect a real time sensor with constant flux changes from various inputs. Trees do this by regulating the amount of water that moves from the soil solution into the roots, up through the xylem, and out to the atmosphere by opening or closing of stomatal pores. This cannot be achieved without the energy from the sun which is driving photosynthesis. With this relationship the cumulative use of water over a season and the resulting photosynthetic activity provides the plant sugars that move through the tree increasing total dry matter and or yield.
Although should the nutrients not be available in the soil solution, which is dependent on soil moisture, then yields can be reduced. If the paddocks are being over irrigated leaching can occur removing fertiliser from the rootzone resulting in reduced efficiency. Soil moisture sensors placed at a 15, 30 and 90cm intervals, common soil profile measurements, to monitor where the moisture levels are can help prevent deep drainage losses, and over or under irrigating which could lead to ineffective energy use. The recent energy audits have included soil sensors as part of the energy water nexus with some sites witnessing a reduction of up to 30% in water use.
Soil moisture sensors alone are not without issues. The contact with the soil is in comparison a very small sample of what may be occurring across a larger area (hectares) which can have varying soil properties (spatial variability). Further, it can get complex when two trees of the same species are close to one another, as they undertake Hydraulic Coupling, transferring water and nutrient through the root systems and between them.
Typically, pump and flow meter data is used to estimate the volume of water applied from an irrigation event. To improve the efficiency in tree crops it is becoming increasingly common to measure the volume of water moving through tree stems using sap flow meters. Water stress can also be measured using stem psychrometers. This allows growers to see when their trees are active (day or night), and to closely match the total applied irrigation water to tree water use at exactly the right time.
To achieve greater efficiencies, increase production while minimising resource use such as energy and water a suite of available sensors are available, these include;
Along with the mentioned sensors there are many more which cover many other factors. Dam and tank water levels can also be monitored along with the ability to auto start pumps according to rules set by the software that displays the incoming data. Armed with this data improvements in efficiency can be made.
Bioenergy has the potential to be a significant energy resource in Australia with an estimated 371PL p.a. available. Bioenergy is a form of renewable energy derived from biomass (organic materials) to generate electricity and heat, and liquid fuels for transport.
Biofuels are liquid fuels, produced by chemical conversion processes that result in the production of ethanol and biodiesel. Biofuels can be broadly grouped according to the conversion processes. The fuel type (the heating value and moisture) and the conversion technology will influence the energy conversion efficiency. For example, the energy conversion efficiency for wood waste in a direct combustion facility is about 35%, compared to between 70-85% efficiency in a combined heat and power facility. Ethanol is produced by and not limited sugar by-products, waste starch from grain, and biodiesel is produced from used cooking oils, tallow from abattoirs and oilseeds.
Typically, the resources used for bioenergy are dominated by forestry and agriculture residues from the sugar cane, grain and vegetable oil crops, and organic waste streams, which is typically used to produce biogas. Biogas is produced from anaerobic digestion using waste effluents such as wastewater, sewage sludge and municipal solid waste. Anaerobic bacteria digest organic material in the absence of oxygen and produce biogas. Anaerobic processes can be managed in a digester or airtight tank or covered lagoon. Currently Australia’s use of bioenergy for electricity generation is limited to bagasse (sugar cane), wood waste, and gas from landfill and sewage facilities. There is increasing use of this technology on both a small and large scale.
Bioenergy offers the potential for considerable environmental benefits. Biomass releases Carbon dioxide (CO2) and other trace amounts of greenhouse gases when converted into another form of energy. However, CO2 is absorbed during vegetative growth through the photosynthesis process and Carbon assimilation. biogas is composed principally of methane and CO2 produced by anaerobic digestion of biomass. Although bioenergy offers a potential renewable form of energy good management of resources is needed, minimising chemical and fertiliser use, land degradation, energy, and water consumption.
The biomass available for potential bioenergy is dependent on a range of factors such as feedstock prices, seasonal availability, and the relative value of biomass to produce other commodities. Things to consider for each bioenergy resource include moisture content, resource location and distribution, and type of conversion process. There is also a range of potential impacts on the resources including drought, flood, fire, climate change and energy prices.
Commercialisation of advanced technologies will likely increase the range of resources, such as the non-edible (woody) parts of plants, Agaves and Algae. There is potential to expand Australia’s bioenergy sector utilising more of these organic and waste products. The right economic conditions may encourage growers to diversify towards bioenergy production or, upgrade infrastructure to produce energy onsite and offset consumption.
The sugarcane industry is one of few industries self-sufficient in energy, through the combustion of bagasse in cogeneration plants. The sugar mill directly consumes the heat and electricity generated and any surplus steam is used to generate electricity and feed into the power grid. The total annual sugarcane crop is about 35.5 million tonnes (Mt), of which 14 per cent is cane fibre, resulting in a total available energy of above 90 PJ.
The three main biomass combustion conversion technologies are grate boilers, fluidised bed combustion (gasification) and co-firing in utility boilers. In the most efficient electricity generation plant, around 30 per cent of the energy in the biomass is converted into electricity; the rest is lost into the air and water. Cogeneration or combined heat and power plants have greater conversion efficiencies because they produce both electricity and process heat. Trigeneration technology provides cooling in addition to heat and electricity generation. The process waste heat can be usefully applied for heating in winter and, via an absorption chiller or refrigeration, for cooling in summer. The use of gasification is more efficient for energy recovery in terms of electricity generation than traditional combustion. In gasification, solid biomass is heated to high temperatures (800–1000°C) in a gasifier and converted to a syngas primarily composed of Hydrogen, Carbon monoxide, Carbon dioxide, water vapour and Methane. One benefit is that there are lower amounts of Sodium oxide, Nitrous oxide, and dioxin emissions than in a traditional combustion process.
The new year is well underway, and as we continue to pivot around the challenges thrown at the agriculture sector from Corona, and the below expected rainfall from LA Nina shows how important it is to keep abreast of the changes taking place and having the correct mechanisms in place to respond to adversity. Primary production is reliant and connected on integration of several natural resources such as energy, water, and climate. He aim to provide a project spread to help farmers to continually improve, become more efficient, resilient, and to meet the goals set for a sustainable and productive future.
Increasing efficiency is one way to improve your company’s bottom line. It means doing more with less. An Australian Financial Review article recently suggested that Australia could experience a $2.2 trillion productivity boost in all commercial sectors with aims for Agriculture to become a $100 billion dollar industry by 2030, provided businesses adopt smart technology and automation. Smart farming and precision agriculture involve the integration of advanced technologies into existing farming practices to increase production efficiency and the quality of agricultural products. Smart systems on farm involve the use of end node sensors capable of capturing the data on variables such as energy, weather, and water. Couple this with spatial or drone monitoring from above and a comprehensive image of what is occurring on your site can be formed. We hope to be testing this concept deploying a whole of systems approach across two farms. We will be adopting a similar approach as seen with AgVictorias on Farm Internet of Things trial, stay tuned for news and project updates as we begin to kick off.
To capture the data requires connectivity and understanding of the underlying principles. Connectivity through the communications networks is becoming increasingly important as these technologies become mainstream. It often comes with issues often seen in regional areas, the technical language, and the various networks. There are different types of services available such as mobile coverage or satellite connectivity each with inherit positives and negatives when accessing the service. Improvements are being made in regional areas such as the mobile blackspot program and solutions available on sites that exhibit low connectivity when connecting smart systems.
Other networks that are used to connect the end node sensors includes Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) and LoRaWAN. These are a Low Power Wide Area Network radio technology which allow data to be sent back from the end nodes (e.g., water sensor) to a central Wi-Fi gateway, typically in your house or a control box. In this instance if you have Wi-Fi access a network can be formed onsite. Unlike cellular devices, such as the Wattwatchers in QFFs real time energy monitoring trail, the ‘data packets’ sent to the gateway are small. This allows the end nodes to be operational for years. They do this by entering a so-called deep sleep mode and are woken by a transfer or receipt of a data packet. As such these systems are not recommended for large data capture like video feeds but work well in other applications such as checking if gates are open or water troughs low. The data can be displayed in such a way that it is easier for growers to make decisions on farm and can help display trends over time. The NB-IoT systems are generally a cheaper alternative in comparison to LoRaWAN as you can tap into an existing network such as Telstra’s. You can find out more on NBIOT HERE and click HERE to view Telstra’s coverage map to see if you can tap into this system.
It is important to consider the costs and return on investment if adopting IOT technology. The use of these smart systems means farms will have real potential to reduce resource use, including energy, from the adoption of this technology.
While these smart systems are great it is important to understand that they can come under attack. Hackers can target smart farms as the systems are relatively new and can be underdeveloped. Cyber-attacks can pose a real risk with a potential downturn in production, income loss, or credibility as a company. This could be for economic reasons or complex country and trade relationships. These attacks can occur in various forms. Data stored in the cloud can be accessed or altered from leakage or injection attacks or altered for instance on automated weed spraying equipment, herbicide application rates could be altered, and crops destroyed. It can also be due to a malware attack, frequency jamming, viruses, or phishing. To read more in depth on the topic of the various types of networks and attacks that can be experienced click HERE.
LoRaWAN sensors have inbuilt security to protect the messages sent, though the gateway and data host can be susceptible. A simple roadmap to protect your systems should first include all the devices that need protecting, then by listing the networks that these have access too. You will need to note all the devices that enter your networks, as this could be from additional access permissions, and protect all entry and exit points. This can be done by updating firmware, having strong passwords that are changed regularly and shoring up encryption services. A written plan can help guide you on the process and ensure all bases are covered. Be sure to train all those involved in the use of the infrastructure.
It is important to remember that the data can come from a host of places which may be overlooked as a source of attack. There are arguments forming on who owns the data which may be the technology or software provider, or the farm. To mitigate against this the National Farmers Federation has worked on the farm data Code of Practice, to view click HERE.
Australia has a long history of power supply and over the years the system has grown with us as a nation. Large power stations have been coupled to increasingly complex transmission and distribution networks to help keep up with demand from the end user. With energy costs and gas prices projected to increase over the coming years it is hoped that alternative energy will become the cleaner and more cost-effective energy source. New installations are trending in this direction with renewables such as wind and solar now increasing at a fast rate. As the electrical generation industry tries to balance the demand load, we are at a crossroads of how energy will be generated and consumed, presenting opportunities for the future.
Virtual power plants hope to decentralise power generation into smaller Distributed Energy Resources (DER). It is estimated that by 2050 between 30 and 45 per cent of Australia’s entire electricity needs will come from customer-owned generators. These community microgrids will aim to balance loads and provide reliability to an already overloaded network. Due to the smaller more efficient networks, less resistive losses will occur as energy will be passed across shorter distances leading to lower investment cost in infrastructure. Customer owned assets will rely on solar generation, a clean energy source and problems in network supply can be isolated resulting in minimal customer disturbances and increases in reliability.
Lack of coherent policy has stifled changes to the electricity network. Strong leadership is required with forward and holistic thinking to enable the complex changes required to develop the grid into the future. Removing the existing barriers will allow innovative thinkers and consumers access to the marketplace. Transparency will allow trust and knowledge between consumers and private enterprise with smarter more efficient systems leading to positive outcomes for carbon abatement and the community.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people hold their own seasonal descriptions. It has been imbedded in their culture for 60 thousand years, influenced by ocean, land plants and animals.
For modern agriculture there are multiple resources, advising people when to sow and harvest. The technological advances in energy, with access to readily available water, means western culture can industrially and scientifically produce crops in one location. This removes deep connection from the land, instead of feeling a breathing organism that produces food from its natural movements. The need for mobility across a landscape that can be highly variable is vital. Just as farmers de-stock and move cattle around this vast landscape, to feed ourselves.
Since colonisation there have been many communication breakdowns leading to misunderstandings between cultures. In the strict sense did the indigenous practice the fenced European way of agriculture, no. They practiced feeding populations of people from one large land mass with many interconnected seasonal patterns.
Into the future we will see where climate change takes our current practices, will we adapt in the same way as 20000 years ago, during ‘Australia’s ice age’, which lasted 5000 years. We need to integrate indigenous land practice with European farming, or will we once again be practicing a ‘form’ of agriculture unknown to us.