An inquiry into growing Australia's agriculture sector to AU$100 billion by 2030 has highlighted that digital technology will be key to driving growth in Australia's agriculture. The inquiry, conducted by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources and chaired by Liberal MP Rick Wilson, estimated that digital agriculture could add AU$20 billion to the value of the sector. "A boost of this size would, by itself, cover the projected shortfall required to reach the AU$100 billion by 2030 target," the Growing Australia report [PDF] said. The inquiry was launched last September to investigate whether the National Farmers' Federation's goal to grow the country's agriculture sector to AU$100 billion by 2030 would be attainable. Read: CSIRO using artificial intelligence to map 1.7m Australian grain paddocks In releasing the findings, Wilson described the target as ambitious but achievable.
The Earth is losing forests at an alarming rate. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 420 million hectares of forest have been lost to agricultural use (largely cattle ranching, soya bean and oil palm farming) since 1990. Between 2015 and 2020, some 10 million hectares were destroyed each year. The Amazon rainforest, for example, lost an area the size of Yellowstone (3,769 square miles) in 2019, and saw deforestation rates spike 30 percent to their highest point in a decade. What's more, Climate change-induced wildfires, as we've seen recently in Australia and in California, have been especially destructive.
Salah Sukkarieh is Professor of Robotics and Intelligent Systems at the University of Sydney, and Director of Research and Innovation at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics. He has worked on autonomous systems for ports, mines, aerospace, and, most recently, agriculture. He recalls that when he started working on drone technology there were not many aerospace companies in Australia working on drones, and those that were were not interested in drones for agriculture or the environment as the business case didn't stack up financially. Australia's size and the remoteness of many rural areas have also been deterrents. There is strong interest from the agriculture industry in the use of robotics and automation to support farmers, and he is surprised by the number of students who are interested in working on these projects.
The Australian government has gone to market seeking for help to design, develop, and roll out an online digital tool that farmers can use to assess the risk and impact caused by climate change. According to the request for tender (RFT), the drought resilience self-assessment tool (DR SAT) would be used to provide data and online drought resilience assessment capability to give farmers insight to help improve their decision-making capabilities, help them better understand and manage risk and uncertainty, as well as help identify options to improve their business resilience and drought preparedness. Additionally, the capability's architecture, when delivered, is expected to be designed for the potential of a national rollout, as well facilitate individual data entry, analysis, and feature data visualisation and user dashboards, the tender said. The initial phase of work would involve delivering a proof of concept through four pilots across the country. The DR SAT would be delivered as part of the federal government's AU$5 billion Future Drought Fund managed by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment.
The horizon scanning report on the future of agricultural technologies has identified how adopting new technologies -- such as sensor, robotic, artificial intelligence (AI), data, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and distributed ledger -- could improve the sector's productivity, diversity, and profitability. The Future of Agriculture Technologies report [PDF] was released by the Australian Council of Learned Academics (ACOLA) on Tuesday, after it was commissioned by Australia's chief scientist Alan Finkel, on behalf of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), to undertake the project. "Australia's diverse agriculture, fisheries, and forestry sector is a AU$69 billion industry … however, reaching the government's goal of AU$100 billion by 2030 will likely require more than just incremental technological advancements," Finkel said. "Historically, Australian producers have been rapid adopters of innovation, and these emerging technologies will help our agriculture sector to transform and tackle current and future challenges." The report highlighted how the deployment of technologies, such as robotics, coupled with AI and Internet of Things (IoT), has the potential to generate vast amounts of data that could assist with complex decision-making and environmental monitoring, while allowing farmers to devote time to focus on complex tasks, for instance.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has been using artificial intelligence (AI) to map Australia's paddocks from space. Through the use of AI, scientists have identified the boundaries of around 1.7 million individual paddocks in Australia's grain growing region. CSIRO has developed the AI-based technology into a new product, ePaddocks, which it touts as saving time for farmers and those in the agricultural sector when using digital services for farm analytics and insights. CSIRO said the product can be used for paddock-level monitoring, crop identification, and rural intelligence and portfolio analysis. "The ePaddocks algorithm analyses satellite images of mainland Australia's agricultural areas to locate the boundary between the paddock and other paddocks and farm management areas," CSIRO explained.
Document recommendation systems for locating relevant literature have mostly relied on methods developed a decade ago. This is largely due to the lack of a large offline gold-standard benchmark of relevant documents that cover a variety of research fields such that newly developed literature search techniques can be compared, improved and translated into practice. To overcome this bottleneck, we have established the RElevant LIterature SearcH consortium consisting of more than 1500 scientists from 84 countries, who have collectively annotated the relevance of over 180 000 PubMed-listed articles with regard to their respective seed (input) article/s. The majority of annotations were contributed by highly experienced, original authors of the seed articles. The collected data cover 76% of all unique PubMed Medical Subject Headings descriptors. No systematic biases were observed across different experience levels, research fields or time spent on annotations.
The myth that modern wheat varieties are more heavily reliant on pesticides and fertilisers than older varieties has been debunked by new research. The University of Queensland's Dr Kai Voss-Fels said modern wheat varieties have out-performed older varieties in side-by-side field trials under both optimum and harsh growing conditions. "There is a view that intensive selection and breeding, which has produced the high-yielding wheat cultivars used in modern cropping, has also made them less resilient and more dependent on chemicals to thrive," Dr Voss-Fels said. "However, the data published today unequivocally shows that modern wheat out-performs older varieties, even under conditions of reduced amounts of fertilisers, fungicides and water. "We also found that genetic diversity within the relatively narrow modern wheat gene pool is rich enough to potentially generate a further 23 per cent increase in yields."
Agerris, an Australia-based robotics and AI platform for agriculture, announced over the weekend that it has raised $6.5 million (AUSD) in seed funding from Uniseed, Carthona Capital and BridgeLane Group. The startup was founded by Professor Salah Sukarrieh and began as research at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney (which is also a partner in Uniseed). From the looks of it, Agerris is building a modular robotics and AI platform that has broad applications for both plant and livestock farmers. According to a University of Sydney news post, Agerris has two main products. The "Swagbot" can autonomously monitor and identify weed issues, detect food and crops through computer vision, as well as herd livestock.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has made AU$35 million available for research into new and emerging technologies. According to CSIRO, the funding will be available specifically for use in the areas of space technology and artificial intelligence, including on the development of advanced imaging of Earth from satellites and data science through AI and machine learning. With AU$16 million invested, the space technology segment will be charged with identifying and developing "science to leapfrog traditional technologies" and find new areas Australia can focus on. CSIRO said it will initially focus on advanced technologies for Earth observation, and then address challenges such as space object tracking, resource utilisation in space, and developing manufacturing and life support systems for missions to the Moon and Mars. AU$19 million will be used to target AI-driven solutions for areas including food security and quality, health and wellbeing, sustainable energy and resources, resilient and valuable environments, and Australian and regional security, CSIRO explained.