Professor Ian Atkinson, the Director of JCU’s eResearch program, leads the Digital Homestead research project that set out in 2012 to evaluate how information and communications technology, particularly NBN and sensor technologies, could improve northern cattle grazing.
The program was started with $700,000 from the Queensland Smart State grant and brought together researchers from JCU, CSIRO, QUT and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
The team fitted solar powered behaviour and tracking collars to cows and installed walk-over weigh stations to monitor their condition. They used satellite technology to keep an eye on pasture performance and grazing capacity and sensors to collect data on weather and water levels in dams.
They then tied all the inputs together into a ‘digital dashboard’ farmers could access from their PCs, providing real-time statistics on cattle and the property at a glance.
Atkinson said the parts of the system were relatively simple, but once they were integrated and connected they made a great difference. “Farmers don’t want shiny gadgets. It’s simple, on-farm analytics that can make a significant difference to profits,” he said.
“We’re currently focused on integration, and translation of research. There is some great stuff coming, and the industry needs to get ready to take best advantage of it,” he said. “Extras such as bore monitoring, farm security and even open gate alarms are, or soon will be available, and the priority now is to get the system into the hands of farmers and business as the true NBN roll-out reaches more rural areas within the next year.”
The research team carried out trials at CSIRO’s Landsdown Research Station near Townsville and in September last year began a commercial stage trial at the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s SpyGlass Research Station near Charters Towers.
The next stage will involve working with industry to develop strategies and process to translate the research outcomes into the hands of producers.
The Northern Australian beef industry returns about $5.7 billion a year to the Australian economy and accounts for about 5 per cent of all jobs in the north.