Ground Cover North : Ground Cover 085 March-April 2010 - North
Precision agriculture MARCH -- APRIL 2010 GROUND COVER 14 Take a crop walk with your avatar Using existing tools, rather than creating new ones, is the focus for agricultural research under the new CRC for Spatial Information BY KELLIE PENFOLD n Don't be too quick to lament the 'wasted' hours the kids or grandkids spend playing computer games -- instead, join them for an insight into the future of Australian farming. This is the suggestion of Professor David Lamb, head of the Precision Agriculture Research Group (PARG) at the University of New England (UNE), Armidale. Professor Lamb is also manager of some of the agricultural-related research being undertaken by the new Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Spatial Information 2 (CRCSI-2). Professor Lamb says underpinning all proposed agriculture research projects under CRCSI-2 is the concept that spatial-based tools for precision agriculture (PA) already exist, albeit in rudimentary form. It is just a matter of determining how to best use them and how to get them to interact with other tools. This is where the computer games come in. A perfect example, he says, is using computer gaming visualisation tools to remotely interrogate and diagnose problems in crops and pastures. Using EM38 surveys, topographical knowledge or yield maps, the tools should allow you to 'walk through' paddocks via the computer screen. 'Walking' with you could be a remotely based agronomist in another part of the state or world, and when GPS-tagged points are reached, up pop recent photos to illustrate a weed or disease problem needing diagnosis. At the same time, satellite-fed images or data could be reaching the computer, showing crop or pasture biomass and triggering text messages to your mobile phone to suggest crop management or grazing options. The concept, called RADAS (Remote Agronomic Diagnostic and Advisory Systems), was devised within the current CRC for Spatial Information's 'Clever Cattle and Cropping Systems' project and will be further developed by the new CRC. Another developing area in CRCSI-2 is 'Biomass Business'. Biomass Business seeks to bring together PA and land management -- an increasingly important interface given the nexus between agriculture and public lands. In some cases, Biomass Business will build on earlier work by the previous CRCSI, but it will now be expanded to cover four key areas: water use efficiency (WUE) in crops, pasture use efficiency and livestock utilisation, fertiliser use efficiency and biomass inventory tools for farms. The three-year, $2.5 million project will see CRCSI-2 host a partnership involving PARG/UNE, the University of Queensland and the Queensland University of Technology, state government agricultural and land management departments, a host of PA industry businesses and four of Australia's largest agricultural companies -- Sundown Pastoral, Twynam Agriculture, Clyde Agriculture/SWIRE Group and the Western Australia-based Milne Agrigroup. Large agricultural companies are involved, Professor Lamb says, because they are a one- stop shop for many different landscapes and farming systems operating on a large scale across many landscapes. In light of increasing PHOTO: KELLIE PENFOLD AGRICULTURE TO BENEFIT FROM NEW SPATIAL INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES Australian growers have a front-row seat as the world's spatial information technologies take off BY KELLIE PENFOLD n The night sky should twinkle more brightly in the next decade with the number of satellites providing spatial information (SI) set to multiply rapidly and, due to geographic location, Australia will be one of the biggest beneficiaries. Between 12 and 15 satellites are currently simultaneously visible to deliver location information to Australian users from the existing Global Positioning System (GPS). The advent of the new Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and Regional Navigation Satellite System (RNSS) means 40 or more satellites will be at the disposal of Australian users at any one time. fertiliser costs, low water allocations and rainfall and environmental challenges, there is great advantage for these companies in being able to measure and record biomass and manage their properties accordingly. Professor Lamb notes that farming is now more than crops and pastures; it is every aspect of the landscape. At the same time, remote sensing of livestock movements and pasture and crop growth offer considerable labour and resource efficiencies. "It's a bottom-up approach. We don't want to have to start again and invent new tools to achieve these things. There's a whole range of off-the-shelf products and it's a matter of working out how to best use them and get them to interface with each other. "The feedback we always get from growers is 'I have all the information, how do I pull it together?' Everyone has filing cabinets filled with data." While from the outset the goal of this project is to help growers make productivity gains, the project recognises the need to measure biomass and associated carbon to meet environmental targets. "The tools we develop need to be simple and immediately presentable to farmers to allow them to make snap decisions." Under the CRCSI's Clever Cattle and Cropping Systems project, earlier work by PARG/UNE focused on making many of the available tools work with existing farm operations, such as quantitative biomass sensing of crops and pastures using a crop circle sensor fitted to the underneath of a crop-spraying plane. 'On-the-go' pasture biomass sensors were fitted to quad bikes to measure pasture growth. Cattle were fitted with GPS tracking collars to record grazing habits and their impact on pasture. One of the greatest challenges Professor Lamb perceives is developing techniques for measuring stored soil moisture. However, earlier PARG trials of measuring volumetric soil water content with EM38 sensors found this fairly common technique to be even more powerful than first thought, warranting further exploration by the new CRC. □ More information: Professor David Lamb, 02 6773 3565, email@example.com, www.une.edu.au/PARG on the current $12.6 billion contributed to national GDP from the SI industry. CRCSI-2 began in January 2010 with a budget of $180 million cash and in-kind from the Australian Government and 100 partner organisations for an eight-year research program. Spatial information has an impact on the health, energy and utilities, sustainable urban development and defence sectors. However, agriculture, natural resources and climate change are areas that will gain great advantage from new SI technologies, attendees at the 7th Annual Controlled Traffic Farming (CTF) Conference, held in Canberra in September 2009, were told. Dr Philip Collier, assistant research director of CRCSI-2, told the conference that the research will focus on three key program areas: positioning, automated spatial information generation and spatial infrastructures. The benefits, he says, of the new GNSS/RNSS systems to Australian growers will be improved accessibility in remote and regional Australia, more reliability, greater speed and robustness. "A key challenge for our research is to investigate how these new satellite systems can be optimally utilised for maximum user benefit," Dr Collier says. One of the first challenges for CRCSI-2 is the provision of infrastructure to make sure all users can take advantage of SI Dr Philip Collier, assistant research director at the CRC for Spatial Information 2. PHOTO: KELLIE PENFOLD innovations. Dr Collier likens the explosion in availability to the arrival of the mobile telephone and suggests users should not need to own or operate their own base stations. There are currently 3000 privately owned base stations in Australia -- many of them in use for controlled-traffic farming (CTF). Dr Collier suggests that just as water and roads are considered infrastructure, so too should a new national SI base station network. The Victorian Government is currently funding the roll out of a Continuously Operating Reference Station (CORS) network across Victoria, providing two- centimetre horizontal spatial accuracy for guidance, positioning and navigation. It is predicted that this is a sign of things to come on a national scale. A report into the benefits of a national SI receiver network, prepared by the Allen Consulting Group for the Victorian Government, found a coordinated roll out would deliver an additional $12 billion in benefits over 20 years to Australian agriculture, on top of the estimated $16 billon benefit from an uncoordinated approach. "We need positioning infrastructure which is as dependable and as accessible as a tap or a light switch. Then the future will open up to Australian growers," Dr Collier says. □ More information: Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information, www.crcsi.com.au By 2019 four different GNSS systems will be operational, along with two or three RNSSs, supplementing the GPS system. The direct impact on annual gross domestic product (GDP) of research delivered by the new CRC for Spatial Information (CRCSI-2) is predicted to be $305 million, and it is suggested much of that impact will be in the agricultural sector. This will build Professor David Lamb, head of the University of New England-based Precision Agriculture Research Group, is to head up the PA research component of the new CRC for Spatial Information 2 (CRCSI-2).
Ground Cover 084 January-February 2010 - North
Ground Cover 086 May-June 2010 - North