Digital Transforms Farming

Agribusinesses and farmers in Australia and New Zealand are moving to adopt new digital technologies to increase harvest yields, manage their herds and cut costs.

While people associate digital technology with newer industries, from retail to telecommunications, it is in one of the oldest of all sectors, agriculture, where it may have its most significant impact.

Already, a wave of digital farming initiatives is sweeping across Australia and NZ, setting up the region’s agricultural sector for a major transformation over the next decade.

These range from smart tags on livestock herds, precision technology to plant seeds, robots to pick crops and drones to muster cattle.

In NZ alone, the country's Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment estimates a productivity gain of NZD 34 billion if the agricultural sector made better use of digital technology.

Recently, a small NZ startup run by an entrepreneur who had worked with aerospace company Rocket Lab raised NZD 8 million to fund its plans to bring IoT and AI to the dairy industry.

Waikato company Halter is developing solutions to help farmers guide and manage dairy cows through IoT and AI technology, claiming that it will sustainably increase production, improve environmental compliance and animal welfare and save on labor costs.

Halter is developing solar power GPS enabled intelligent neck bands for dairy cows that allow farmers to manage their herds remotely.

Complex cow movements, path planning, health and heat detection are all done by the platform.

Cows are moved to and from the milk sheds, and the app receives alerts when cattle show signs of poor health. It also provides “virtual fences” to keep the cows away from hazards, such as rivers and drains.

Still in the NZ dairy sector, dairy improvement company LIC is in the early stages of developing AI applications and imaging technology to monitor and track the lameness of cows on a daily basis.

LIC is testing the system on three farms, including its innovation farm which serves as a pilot project.

The system uses cameras to record cows walking on a raceway with an EID meter identifying individual animals.

Ultimately, the aim is for the system to identify all levels of lameness on a 0 to 3 scale, tracking and recording the movement of each hoof and head using the cameras.

LIC is not the only company with a demonstration farm for its technology.

In Western Australia, agricultural training facility the Muresk Institute last month opened the state’s first demonstration SMART Farm, integrating cloud-based technology with digital equipment such as sensors and GPS systems for use in modern agriculture

There are also more examples of technology companies partnering with those in agriculture.

NZ telco Spark is partnering with a company called Digital Journey to create Spark Agri Assessment, a free tool which creates a digital action plan for agricultural businesses, laying out areas where they could implement a digital technology.

In Australia, chemical company Nufarm has announced an alliance with digital technology company Farmer’s Edge, which produces a suite of software and data solutions collected by existing farm hardware.

The FarmCommand solutions aggregate multiple sources of farm data in one place, helping farmers make data-driven decisions.

In the area of drone technology, startups such as Queensland based Universal Drones are pinning their future on the rapid implementation of their technology by farmers.

The company was founded last year and already claims their products are saving farmers time and money.

The company’s General Manager Gary King says one sheep farmer is saving three hours a day as a result of his drone.

He says many older farmers have embraced drones because they are not as physically capable of doing as much themselves as they used to.

Universal Drones produce more than 80 drones which specialize in water boring, mustering, stocktake, biosecurity and the management of feral animals.