Tag Archives: Agriculture

Flurosat agtech

Agtech startup FluroSat infuses data for food security

Agtech startup FluroSat, headed by aeronautical engineer Anastasia Volkova, had its origins through the University of Sydney’s Inventing the Future entrepreneurial program. Since its inception two years ago, it has already captured the attention of investors and is now about to launch its new online platform to the Australian market.

Volkova sums up one of the problems the agricultural industry is currently facing in a nutshell: “Farms are large and farmers are busy. The opportunity for different applications of remote sensing technology [to be converted] into crop stress indicators has found resonance in the farming and agricultural community. We’re turning this data into insights.”

Flurosat uses remote sensing images (captured by multi-/ and hyperspectral cameras on board satellites, airplanes and drones) to capture early indicators of crop stress. The team have developed a subscription-based platform (FluroSense™) to infuse this data into a smart solution for precision farming. Agronomists can use the platform to spot crop stress indicators and verify the exact locations at risk. They can then consult with farmers on how to best target the areas which need attention.

Unlimited satellite data is available on the platform, additional aircraft-obtained data can be ordered and users can even upload their own drone data. Volkova explains the critical requirements for data connectivity, from locational identification of the crop stressors through to quantification, analysis and interpretation. “We’re making the remote sensing work for precision agriculture and [extracting] insights from crop stress indicators that crop stress models help us look for. It’s a two-step approach that very few other [agtech] companies are using.”

The agtech startup has three main pillars: agriculture, remote sensing and data science/machine learning. The diverse and international team bring together their expertise in agtech, aerospace, software development and data analytics and are based at FluroSat’s head offices in Sydney and Kiev. “Flurosat was born out of a desire to make an impact”, says Volkova. She explains that she examined the unique value proposition of her skills and how she could apply them to a global problem. “It’s important to have a purpose to wake up every morning to.”

Volkova speaks proudly about the startup and her colleagues: “It’s harnessing people’s superpowers and skills for a great purpose.” She says that one of their biggest successes so far has been convincing clients of the usefulness of the data and that it’s possible to get the full benefits to visit the field in person. “We’ve proven that you don’t need a person on the ground to provide customer service.”

FluroSat is gearing up to conduct the company’s third season of monitoring of primarily cotton crop in Australia this summer and expand its reach globally, particularly to the North and South American markets. “We’re looking at driving the value of the insights on the large scale.”

– Larissa Fedunik

agricultural science

Northern Australia’s innovation frontier

Sally Leigo creates tools for efficient farm management. Whenever a farmer logs into the Cloud and discovers cattle that are 100 km away are at a good weight to sell, Sally Leigo smiles because her research in agricultural science helped to make it possible.

Helping farmers manage their properties efficiently and sustainably drives this agricultural science researcher, who was recently appointed as Project Manager for the CRC for Developing Northern Australia.

Growing up on a property in western NSW, it was a given that Leigo would end up in farming on some level. After completing an agricultural science degree at the University of Sydney, she started work in artificial insemination. For 13 years Leigo managed research projects for the beef industry, including developing a tool to help farmers know when to sell stock and which pasture is suitable for grazing.

The tool captures cattle weight when stock walk over a weighbridge on their way to watering yards and sends the data via satellite to famers. Satellites also record the greenness of pastures — if cattle are losing weight, it indicates poor pasture. Farmers can then decide when (and whether) to sell, to move cattle to another pasture or to use feed supplements.

Previously farmers only weighed cattle at sale because properties in remote Australia can be thousands of square kilometres in area — comparable to small European countries. “To weigh your cattle on a regular basis is a big undertaking,” says Sally.

In her new role at the CRC Northern Australia, Sally hopes to use her experience in agricultural science to improve opportunities in the agriculture sector.

She is also looking forward to moving into new areas such as traditional owner business-led development.

Rebecca Blackburn

agricultural research

Transplanting refugee knowhow

Featured image credit: new agricultural research brings community together to improve maize production. Credit: Facebook/Sunraysia Burundian Garden

Far from their native home in eastern Africa, a group of former refugees have brought their traditional farming methods to their new home in Victoria’s north.

Armed with shovels and hoes and some seeds, Mildura’s Twitezimbere Burundian community have planted a crop of maize – a traditional staple food in their home country – which is not only connecting them to the greater Mildura community, but is also connecting researchers with new agricultural methods.

These methods, employed in the northern Victorian township that’s known for its hot temperatures and vast food-growing industry, are helping researchers from the University of Melbourne and the University of Wollongong understand new ways to grow and support crops beyond current techniques. This is especially important in an era of increasingly erratic weather patterns.

agricultural research
Work in the maize field in Mildura. Credit: Facebook/Sunraysia Burundian Garden

Dr Olivia Dun, from the School of Geography at the University of Melbourne, says she and fellow researchers – Professor Lesley Head from the University of Melbourne and Dr Natascha Klocker from the University of Wollongong – have been able to gain important insights into different agricultural methods and crops that could be adopted in Australia.

With funding from an Australian Research Council Discovery Project, the researchers are exploring how people from ethnically diverse backgrounds value nature, how they practise agriculture and how they transfer skills from their home country to the Australian landscape.

“One of the reasons we’re doing this is because when we talk about migrants in relation to the environment, they’re often portrayed as a drain – extra people needing resources. It’s a population debate that frames migrants very negatively,” says Dun.

“So, we wanted to challenge that: these are people with skills, and migrants are not often asked about their knowledge and skills relating to nature.”

Drawing on this untapped resource has also provided the Burundian community multiple benefits: it not only provided the 100 members of the Burundian community with the main ingredient for their traditional dishes, but has also enabled them to connect with the broader Mildura community.

One of the Burundian participants, Joel, said of why he wanted to farm: “I looked and saw [that] this town is a town of farmers. So I thought it will suit me. Because I did not study, I don’t have a degree, I don’t expect to go and work in an office”.

Another agricultural research participant, Joselyne, says she sees Mildura as a “place to grow”.

And grow it has. The tiny maize seeds were planted in September 2016 and by February 2017 had flourished into a soaring crop in which people could get lost. Dun says its success has delighted everyone involved, but especially the local Burundians.

The Republic of Burundi is an east African country that has been blighted by a recent history of colonisation and bloody civil wars. Unlike Australia, the majority of Burundi’s population live in rural areas, so farming and agriculture are significant economic and practical components of life in the land-locked country.

Maize is a staple food for Burundians, along with sweet potato, cassava and wheat.

agricultural research
Preparing the soil for the first day of maize planting. Credit: Olivia Dun and Rachel Kendrigan

“Joel, Joselyne and other members of the Burundian community are extremely accomplished and knowledgeable farmers,” says Dun. “Through their interactions with more established farmers in Mildura, this project provides really exciting opportunities to learn about their farming methods.

“It’s been built on such a strong foundation of mutual respect and a willingness to learn from other cultures, which has been inspiring to see,” adds Klocker.

The community will consume about 10% of the maize fresh, and the rest will either be sold or dried and milled into flour to make ugali – a traditional East African dish. The success of the crop has opened the path for them to think about developing their own small business, selling maize to the Mildura community.

“They feel proud and it’s connected them to the general Australian community in Mildura in a very positive way,” says Dun.

The agricultural research project has been a group effort, made possible thanks to the generous access to one acre of land provided by Sunraysia Produce, support from Sunraysia Local Food Future’s members and Food Next Door program, Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council and Mildura Development Corporation.

Dun says keeping this farming tradition alive has been particularly good for the younger kids amongst Mildura’s Burundian community, many of whom have grown up in Australia and have now been able to interact with this crop and how their family farmed in Africa.

Thanks to the success of the agricultural research pilot, more businesses and community groups are seeking to get involved and cultivate more under-utilised land. Vietnamese, Tamil, Nepalese, Hazara and young Anglo-Australian groups across Mildura want to get involved in the next farming scheme, with talks underway to cultivate and establish a community farm on a recently-donated 20-acre parcel of land.

– Alana Schetzer, University of Melbourne

The Food Next Door program needs help kick-starting the community farm and is currently looking for support and financial donations. If you would like to help, please email sunraysialocalfoodfuture@gmail.com

This article was first published by Pursuit. Read the original article here.

wheat

IP at the root of Australia’s wheat industry

Intellectual property has had a large role to play in moving wheat breeding from being almost entirely publicly funded in the 1990s to being completely funded by the private sector today.

Wheat accounts for more than a quarter of the total value of all crops produced in Australia. In terms of all agricultural commodities produced nationwide, wheat is second only to cattle. In the 2015/16 season, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences forecasted the gross value of wheat to be $7.45 billion, with exports worth $5.8 billion.

Western Australia leads the way in wheat exports, generating half of Australia’s total annual wheat production and sending more than 95 per cent offshore. A major export avenue for Western Australian growers is the wheat used for the production of noodles. One million tonnes of Udon noodle grain is exported to Japan and Korea every year at a value of $350 million.

The Australian wheat industry has gone through significant transformation in the last 20 years and the Australian IP Report 2015 shows innovation in wheat breeding is quite healthy. Over the past decade, Triticum (the scientific genus for wheat) has had the third highest number of plant breeder’s rights (PBR) applications submitted in Australia, behind only Rosa (roses) and Prunus (trees and shrubs).

The Plant Breeder’s Rights Act 1994 (PBR Act) allows an owner of a plant variety the ability to not only sell their variety, but also to collect royalties at any point in its use. This provision led to the introduction of end point royalties (EPR) in the years following the PBR Act’s ratification. For wheat growing, this is a royalty paid on the total grain harvested by the growers of a PBR protected variety.

Kerrie Gleeson of Australian Grains Technologies explains how EPR have invigorated the wheat industry saying, “Prior to the year 2000, 95 per cent of wheat breeding programs were in the public sector, either funded by universities, Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) levies, or state governments.”

Moving ahead to the present day, Australian wheat breeding is now completely funded by the private sector due to the income generated by EPR.

Before EPR, royalties were paid to breeders when they sold their seed to farmers. Tress Walmsley, CEO of InterGrain, estimates that while a new variety of grain costs around $3 million to breed, under the old seed-based royalty system breeders only received around $50 000 per variety. This was a commercially unsustainable system and saw a decline in public investment for developing new varieties.

The EPR system radically changed the commercial value of developing new grain varieties in Australia. By deferring collection of royalties to the time of harvest, the initial cost of purchasing seed is lower.

An example of the EPR system in action is ‘Drysdale’, a wheat variety developed by CSIRO to cope with Australia’s low rainfall. Currently a royalty of $1 is charged to famers for every tonne produced. While this may not seem like much, considering the production of wheat averages around 25 million tonnes per year, the return from EPR really adds up.

Income received from EPR helps support the continuing research into developing new varieties and reduces the reliance on public funding.

The advantage of the EPR system is that plant breeders share the risk with farmers. If a harvest is low, for example during a drought, the farmers will be affected, and as a result the returns to the breeders through the EPR will be down. This gives breeders an incentive to develop varieties that are resilient and high yielding; the more successful the crop is, the bigger the return for both breeders and growers.

THE AUSTRALIAN WHEAT INDUSTRY HAS GONE THROUGH SIGNIFICANT TRANSFORMATION IN THE LAST 20 YEARS.

Wheat breeding in Australia is now a highly competitive industry. The major wheat breeding companies now have access to new technologies and resources through foreign investment and partnerships.

The EPR system in Australia has been dominated by wheat. The first EPR variety was released in 1996. Over 260 EPR varieties are listed for the 2015/16 harvesting season. Of these varieties, over 130 are wheat.

However, implementing the EPR system has seen its share of challenges. “When we first launched back in 1996…we actually had almost two competing systems”, Tress says. “We had one system commence in Western Australia which I was responsible for, and then we also had a company start an end point royalty system on the east coast.”

“Initially each plant breeding company, each state government and each seed company worked independently. We really made the big gains when we came together and worked it out collectively”, she says.

The development of an EPR industry collection system began in 2007 when a number of Australia’s major plant breeding organisations formed the EPR Steering Committee.

“The key component is working with the grain growers and listening to their feedback and making changes to how we collect the EPR so it is actually an easier system for them to utilise”, says Tress. “The industry standard license was one of our first achievements.”

The EPR is ultimately reliant on the honesty of farmers declaring the varieties they are growing. “Our system works in finding ways where the PBR Act gives you the level of protection you need, and you dovetail in contract law where you need some extra assistance”, adds Tress.

The integrity of EPR collection is maintained in various ways, including harvest declaration forms and reports from grain traders and bulk handlers. An industry standard contract has also been developed to simplify the collection process. The competitive nature of the EPR system means farmers are given a choice when deciding on which grain to grow. If they are paying a royalty on seed they are growing, they want to be confident the crop is high yielding, disease resistant and suitable for their region.

Even though research and development into wheat has been growing in recent years, the industry faces ongoing challenges. While Australia has so far avoided the notoriously devastating Ug99, a fungal wheat stem rust which can cause entire crops to be lost, farmers do tackle other varieties of stripe, stem and leaf rusts across the country. Nationwide, 72 per cent of Australia’s wheat growing area is susceptible to at least one rust pathogen.

This highlights the importance of continued investment into the development of new wheat breeds.

“We need the research to create high-yielding, disease and pest resistant agricultural crops,” Professor Philip Pardey says, who was a keynote speaker at the 2015 International Wheat Conference held in Sydney.

The International Year of Pulses aims to raise awareness of the nutritional benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production. The celebration is an opportunity to encourage connections throughout the food chain – and one Australian team of researchers is ahead of the game.

Murdoch University professor John Howieson is now working on a new licence structure for the upcoming release of lebeckia. This grain, originally from South Africa, is considered the ‘holy grail’ breakthrough to rectify the shortage of summertime feed for livestock.

The new National Innovation and Science Agenda will support further agricultural research both with research funds and through programs that bring together universities, researchers and producers. You can find out more at innovation.gov.au.

This article was originally published by IP Australia in IP – Your Business Edge Issue 1 2016. Read the original article here.

pollination

Honeybee health: a #dataimpact story

Featured image above: Environmental stressors which alter bee pollination, like extreme weather and pesticides, are assessed using large data sets generated by bees from all over the world via fitted micro-sensor ‘backpacks’. Credit: Giorgio Venturieri

Bee colonies are dying out worldwide and nobody is exactly sure why. The most obvious culprit is the Varroa mite which feeds on bees and bee larvae, while also spreading disease. The only country without the Varroa mite is Australia. However, experts believe that there are many factors affecting bee health.

To unravel this, CSIRO is leading the Global Initiative of Honeybee Health (GIHH) in gathering large sets of data on bee hives from all over the world. High-tech micro-sensor ’backpacks’ are fitted to bees to log their movements, similar to an e-tag. The data from individual bees is sent back to a small computer at the hive.

Researchers are able to analyse this data to assess which stressors – such as extreme weather, pesticides or water contamination – affect the movements and pollination of bees.

Maintaining honey bee populations is essential for food security as well securing economic returns from crops. Bee crop pollination is estimated to be worth up to $6 billion to Australian agriculture alone.

Currently 50,000 bees have been tagged and there may be close to one million by the end of 2017. Researchers aim to not only improve the health of honey bees but to increase crop sustainability and productivity through pollination management.

This article was first published by the Australian National Data Service on 10 October 2016. Read the original article here.

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peanut

Peanut genome key to non-allergenic products

Featured image above: The peanut (Arachis hypogaea L.) is an important global food source and a staple crop grown in more than 100 countries, with approximately 42 million tonnes produced every year. Credit: ICRISAT

In a world first, under the leadership of University of Western Australia Winthrop Professor Rajeev Varshney, a global team sequenced and identified 50,324 genes in an ancestor of the cultivated peanut, Arachis duranensis.

They decoded the peanut DNA to gain an insight into the legume’s evolution and identify opportunities for using its genetic variability.

Importantly, the researchers have isolated 21 allergen genes, that, when altered, may be able to prevent an allergic response in humans.

The last decade has seen an alarming rise in peanut allergies with almost three in every 100 Australian children suffering, and only 20 per cent growing out of the allergy.

The allergic reaction of peanuts is caused by specific proteins in its seeds, according to Varshney who is also the Research Program Director at International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

“These 21 characterised genes will be useful in breeding to select the superior varieties in the laboratory such as ones that are non-allergenic,” Varshney says.

They also identified additional genes that would help increase crop productivity and improve peanut nutritional value by altering oil biosynthesis and protein content.

Peanuts or groundnuts (Arachis hypogaea L.) are an important global food source and are a staple crop grown in more than 100 countries, with approximately 42 million tonnes produced every year.

Originating in South America, humans have cultivated peanuts for more than 7,600 years.

With a very high seed oil content of 45–56 per cent, peanut oil contains nearly half of the 13 essential vitamins and 35 per cent of the essential minerals.

Peanuts are also associated with several human health benefits, and have been found to improve cardiovascular health, reduce the risk of certain cancers, and control blood sugar levels.

“This genome sequence has helped to identify genes related to resistance to different diseases, tolerance to abiotic stresses and yield-related traits,” Varshney says.

“By using this ’molecular breeding’ approach, we can also accelerate the breeding process, and generate superior varieties in 3–5 years compared to traditional breeding that takes 6–10 years.”

Varshney says genomics-assisted breeding is a non-GMO or ‘non-transgenic’ approach.

“This is basically a simple breeding process that uses the molecular markers/genes to select the lines in the breeding, and farmers have been growing such varieties for many crops all around the world,” Varshney says.

– Teresa Belcher

This article was first published by Science Network Western Australia  on 25 August 2016. Read the original article here.

commercialisation

Commercialisation boost for businesses

The Turnbull Government has announced that twenty businesses across Australia will be offered $11.3 million in Entrepreneurs’ Programme grants to help boost commercialisation and break into new international markets.

A 3-D printed jaw joint replacement, termite-proof building materials and a safer way to store grain outdoors are amongst the diverse products and services that will be fast-tracked.

The grants range from $213,000 to $1 million and are matched dollar-for-dollar by recipients.

So far, the Government has invested $78.1 million since commencement of this initiative – helping 146 Australian businesses to get their products off the ground.

The grants help businesses to undertake development and commercialisation activities like product trials, licensing, and manufacturing scale-up—essential and often challenging steps in taking new products to market.

Projects supported by today’s grant offers will address problems and meet needs in key industries including food and agribusiness, mining, advanced manufacturing and medical technologies.

The 20 projects to receive commercialisation support include:

  • a safer, cheaper and more efficient outdoor grain storage solution for the agricultural industry
  • recycling technology for fats, oils and greases from restaurants that will save money and reduce pollution
  • a lighter, stronger and more flexible concrete product
  • an anti-theft automated security system for the retail fuel industry
  • a cheaper, faster and safer decontamination process for mine drainage
  • smaller, cheaper and more patient-friendly MRI technology used for medical diagnostics
  • a 3-D printed medical device for jaw joint replacements that reduces surgery risk and improves patient quality-of-life
  • insect and termite-proof expansion joint foam for the building industry, combining a two-step process into a single product.

The Entrepreneurs’ Programme commercialisation grants help Australian entrepreneurs, researchers and small and medium businesses find commercialisation solutions.

It aims to:

• accelerate the commercialisation of novel intellectual property in the form of new products, processes and services;
• support new businesses based on novel intellectual property with high growth potential; and
• generate greater commercial and economic returns from both public and private sector research and facilitate investment to drive business growth and competitiveness.

This information was first shared by the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science on 17 August 2016.

research startups

Research startups accelerate CSIRO science

Featured image above: Research startups pitch at the ON Accelerate demo night. Hovermap have developed intelligent software that will allow drones to map indoor environments.

There are now over 30 accelerator and incubator programs in Australia, but CSIRO’s ON accelerator is the only one focused on equipping research startups with the tools they need to grow.

“It’s the first time a program of this sort has been offered for the research community on this scale,” says Elizabeth Eastland, the General Manager for Strategy, Market Vision and Innovation at CSIRO.

Just six months ago, Eastland was the Director of the University of Wollongong’s iAccelerate program, but moved to CSIRO having been “blown away by what this program can offer researchers”.

At the ON Accelerate Demo event held on Thursday 7 July, Eastland introduced 11 research startups who pitched their products to Sydney’s venture capital investors. In contrast to the young faces that dominate many of Australia’s accelerators, last night’s ON cohort were led by experienced researchers, engineers, developers and entrepreneurs.

Two of the research startups revealed big plans for the agriculture industry. A group called Future Feed is selling seaweed supplements that aim to reduce livestock greenhouse gas emissions by 80%. Another team has created wireless trapping technology to help farmers detect fruit fly infestations.

Fruit Fly costs farmers US$30 billion in fruit and vegetable production around the world, but this isn’t the only global challenge that the ON research startups have been tackling. The presenter from Modular Photonics pointed out last night that the world’s internet demand is about to outstrip its fibre capacity.

His group is commercialising new photonics hardware compatible with both old internet fibre and the new fibre being developed by the top telecommunications providers.

On the health front, another of the research startups, ePAT unveiled new facial recognition software to detect pain levels in people who cannot speak, such as children and elderly people with moderate to severe dementia. Their vision is that “no patient who cannot speak will suffer in silence in pain”.

ON Accelerate had major success earlier this year when a German company launched a gluten free beer brewed from barley commercialised by a startup from last year’s ON cohort. That startup, known as Kebari, is in now the process of developing another form of gluten free grain for use in food.

Kebari co-founder and scientist Dr Phil Larkin spoke at yesterday’s research startups event, saying ON Accelerate had taught him about ‘flearning’ – learning from failure – and the importance of interrogating the entire delivery chain to validate the value of a solution.

CSIRO Principal Research Scientist and RapidAIM team leader Dr Nancy Shellhorn said that the program had given her much faster access to the market and much better insight into customer needs.

“It’s given me and the RapidAIM team a runway to the science of the future that will be truly impactful,” said Shellhorn.

Program Mentor Martin Duursma also spoke at the research startups event, saying that startup skills are very transferable to research teams because they are all about trying something, gathering feedback, making improvements and repeating the process.

“Startup skills are really just a variant of the scientific method,” said Duursma.

And scientists will have greater access to the ON research startups program next year, with a dramatic increase in the interest of universities. Eastland says that 21 of Australia’s 40 universities have now signed on to be ON partners. Macquarie University and Curtin University led the pack with their involvement this year. UNSW Australia, the University of Technology Sydney and Monash University are among those jumping on board for the next round.

– Elise Roberts


ON Accelerate Research Startups

The below information was first shared by CSIRO. Read the original list and team members here.

1. Hovermap

The future of asset inspection.

“Every year, Australia loses billions of dollars due to infrastructure failures, spends billions of dollars on inspecting its aging assets and loses some of its bravest men and women who take the risk to do this dull and dangerous job. Utility companies and governments are turning to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to reduce costs and improve safety. However, current UAVs are ‘dumb and blind’ so require expert pilots and can’t fly in many places.

Our solution is an intelligent UAV with advanced collision avoidance, non-GPS flight and accurate 3D mapping capabilities – all tailored to suit industrial inspection requirements. Hovermap is the ultimate inspection tool of the future that can be used to safely and efficiently inspect hard-to-reach assets and collect extremely high fidelity data in previously unreachable places. It is suitable for inspecting telecommunication towers, bridges, power line assets and smoke stacks. This innovative technology will reduce risks, improve safety and efficiency and lower costs, all of which benefit customers and businesses.”

2. Suricle

Changing the face of polymers.

“We change the face of polymers by embedding functional particles into the surface to give them new and useful properties. Our patented technology paves the way for development of many new, innovative materials and products.

An immediate area of application is to protect high-value marine sensors from biofouling. The unwanted growth of marine organisms causes signal attenuation, sensor malfunction, increased weight and unwanted drag due to ocean currents. There are many thousands of marine sensors deployed globally, costing up to $120K each, which require frequent cleaning to keep them in service.

Suricle are focusing on treating adhesive polymer films with antifouling properties for attachment to sensors to mitigate biofouling. Kits containing this film will be sold via our e-commerce store for application in the field by the end-users, offering savings of thousands of dollars per year in reduced maintenance costs.”

3. RapidAIM

Supporting and growing global fruit and vegetable export markets

“Fruit Fly are the number one biosecurity issue in fruit and vegetable production. Globally US$30b worth of fruit and vegetable production is lost due to fruit fly, and $US18b in global trade is threatened by the pest.

Millions of fruit fly traps across the globe are checked manually, causing delay and risking outbreaks. This can close markets!

RapidAIM is a new era in biosecurity. We provide a service of real-time alerts for the presence and location of fruit fly using wireless trapping technology. This immediate data-driven decision service allows biosecurity agencies, growers and agronomists to respond rapidly to fruit fly detection to control the pest.

This allows for targeted workflow, the protection of existing markets and supports the development of new trading opportunities.”

4. ExByte

Predictive data analytics for preventative maintenance of infrastructure assets including water 

“Each year 7,000 critical water main breaks occur in Australia resulting in billions of dollars in rectification and consequence cost. In contrast, the cost of preventative maintenance is only 10 per cent of the reactive repair cost. The ExByte team has developed a disruptive technology that uses data analytic techniques to predict failure probability based on learned patterns, offering a solution to accurately predict water pipe failures resulting in effective preventative maintenance and a reduction in customer interruptions.”

5. Future Feed

A natural feed additive from seaweed that dramatically reduces livestock methane and increases production.

“The world is under increasing pressure to produce more food and producing more food is contributing to climate change. Livestock feed supplementation with FutureFeed is the solution. It can improve farm profitability and tackles climate change. FutureFeed can also provide farmers access to other income streams through carbon markets and provide access to premium niche markets through a low carbon footprint and environmentally friendly product.”

6. elumin8

An energy efficiency product that empowers households to understand and reduce their energy consumption.

“It is very difficult for households to improve their energy efficiency and transition to a sustainable future as current solutions are boring, costly and confusing. Elumin8 solves this problem by providing tailored energy information via a unique communication channel, allowing homeowners to directly engage with their home in a human and personable way as though it was another member of the family. Elumin8 also guides the household step by step along the journey to energy independence by improving energy efficiency and taking the risk and confusion out of installing solar and batteries.

We do this by collecting electricity data from a single sensor and use unique algorithms to disaggregate the data and determine appliance level consumption. Social media applications and advanced analytics are then utilised to connect the homeowner with their home allowing instant and humanised communication to ensure they are engaged with their energy use.”

7. Coviu

An online face-to-face business transaction platform.

“The way we work is changing. We need tools to enable those changes.

Traditional video conferencing tools are clunky and do not support experts like coaches, clinicians or lawyers in delivering and charging for their professional services online.

Coviu is the solution. Professionals get a frictionless and easy-to-use solution for setting up online consulting rooms and invite clients to rich interactive consults. One click and your client is talking to you in their browser – no software installations, no complicated call setup.

Coviu is a groundbreaking new video and data conferencing technology that works peer-to-peer allowing for massive scalability, speed and affordability.”

8. Reflexivity

A process that helps mining companies proactively manage community sentiment before conflict occurs.

“When resources companies lose the trust of the communities they work alongside, conflict occurs. Projects take twice as long to develop as they did a decade ago and cost 30 per cent more than they should because of social conflict. Companies don’t have the tools to systematically understand what their communities think about them, and communities have few constructive ways to feel heard.

Reflexivity has solved this problem by providing our customers with a sophisticated data analytic engine that translates community survey data we collect into prioritised opportunities for trust building and risk mitigation strategies. Our analytics identify those factors that build and degrade trust in a company, in the minds of community members; our customers are then able to invest resources and energy into the issues that matter most. Using mobile technology, our data streams to our customers in real time via a subscription model.

We have engaged over 14,000 community members in eight countries, and generated $1.5m in revenue in the last three years. And while we started in mining, our process is valuable wherever these relationships are important. We are building a service delivery platform to scale up our process and we are seeking support and advice to turn our successful global research program into a successful global business.”

9. Meals by Design

Healthy convenience never tasted so good!

“Ready-to-eat convenience doesn’t have to result in dissatisfaction and guilt. By bringing together the latest innovations in food manufacturing, including High Pressure Thermal processing, and an understanding of the nutritional needs of a diverse population, cuisine favourites can be prepared in a convenient format without compromising eating satisfaction or, importantly, nutrition.

Meals by Design develops premium and customisable meal solutions that cater to nutritional and functional needs, offering healthy convenience without compromise.”

10. ePAT

Real-time pain assessment through facial recognition technology for patients that cannot verbally communicate.

“Imagine you are in excruciating pain, but you can’t tell anyone. This is the reality for millions of non-communicative people world-wide, such as those with moderate to severe dementia. ePAT’s point of care apps utilise facial recognition technology to detect facial micro-expressions which are indicative of pain, to provide these people with a voice.”

11. Modular Photonics: big fast data

Passive fibre-optic technology that significantly increases data transmission capacity.

“Modular Photonics uses a novel integrated photonic chip to enhance the data rate across existing multimode fibre links by 10x and more. The technology enables multiple data channels in parallel without the length restrictions imposed by conventional multimode fibre links.”

Australia’s biofuture

Featured image above: Associate Professor Ian O’Hara at the Mackay Biocommodities Pilot Plant. He is pictured inside the plant with the giant vats used for fermentation. Credit: QUT Marketing and Communication/Erika Fish

QUT is supporting the Queensland Government to develop a strategy, including the creation of a 10-year Biofutures Roadmap, for the establishment of an industrial biotechnology industry in Queensland.

Associate Professor Ian O’Hara, principal research scientist at QUT’s Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities (CTCB), says we are facing big challenges: the world needs to produce 70% more food and 50% more energy by 2050, while reducing carbon emissions.

At the same time, says O’Hara, there are opportunities to add value to existing agricultural products. “Waste products from agriculture, for example, can contribute to biofuel production.”

QUT funded a study in 2014 examining the potential value of a tropical biorefinery in Queensland. It assessed seven biorefinery opportunities across northeast Queensland, including in the sorghum-growing areas around the Darling Downs and the sugarcane-growing areas around Mackay and Cairns.

O’Hara says they mainly focused on existing agricultural areas, taking the residues from these to create new high-value products.

But he sees more opportunity as infrastructure across north Queensland continues to develop.

The study found the establishment of a biorefinery industry in Queensland would increase gross state product by $1.8 million per year and contribute up to 6500 new jobs.

“It’s an industry that contributes future jobs in regional Queensland – and by extension, opportunities for Australia,” O’Hara says.

The biorefineries can produce a range of products in addition to biofuels. These include bio-based chemicals such as ethanol, butanol and succinic acid, and bio-plastics and bio-composites – materials made from renewable components like fibreboard.

O’Hara says policy settings are required to put Queensland and Australia on the investment map as good destinations.

“We need strong collaboration between research, industry and government to ensure we’re working together to create opportunities.”

The CTCB has a number of international and Australian partners. The most recent of these is Japanese brewer Asahi Group Holdings, who CTCB are partnering with to develop a new fermentation technology that will allow greater volumes of sugar and ethanol to be produced from sugarcane.

“The biofuels industry is developing rapidly, and we need to ensure that Queensland and Australia have the opportunity to participate in this growing industry,” says O’Hara.

– Laura Boness

www.qut.edu.au

www.ctcb.qut.edu.au

Protecting Australian wine

Protecting Australian wine

Featured image above: Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre

Phylloxera is an aphid-like insect that is a pest of commercial grapevines worldwide. The Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre (PBCRC) is funding a project led by Vinehealth Australia to conduct field trials for a new, accurate, sensitive and cost-effective DNA-based test for detecting the pest.

CEO of Vinehealth Australia, Alan Nankivell, who is leading the project, says phylloxera had a significant economic impact on the wine industry, as “the quality of our wines is based on the quality of our vines”. Eighty per cent of Australia’s vineyards have vines that are own-rooted, rather than grafted onto resistant rootstock; some are very old and the wines produced from these are highly sought after.

Phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae) feeds on grapevine roots and leaves them open to bacterial infection, which can result in rot and necrotic death due to cell injury. It destroyed substantial areas of vines in France in the mid-19th century and has affected several winegrowing areas of Australia; the only effective treatment is removing infested vines and replanting with resistant rootstock.

Financially, the cost of managing a vineyard with phylloxera is estimated to range from 10–20% in additional operating costs.

The current method of detection uses a shovel and magnifying glass to inspect sites in areas of low vigour; however, phylloxera may have been present for some time and the test is usually conducted in summer, one of the industry’s busiest seasons.

The new DNA-based test requires 10-cm soil core samples to be taken 5 cm from the vine’s trunk. The samples are then sealed and sent to a lab where they are dried and tested for the presence of phylloxera DNA.

Protecting Australian wine
Alan Nankivell, CEO of Vinehealth Australia, is leading research to develop a new test for phylloxera of grapevines. Photo credit: PBCRC

Nankivell says the incidence of finding phylloxera using the test was very high (around 98%), even when the amounts of phylloxera present were low.

“At the moment, we’re able to find phylloxera at sites any time of the year.”

The new DNA-based test could help prevent the spread of phylloxera in Australia, as those who have it on their property can determine where it is and whether it is spreading.

Sampling in vineyards across Australia over time will establish a baseline for the maintenance of area freedom. Nankivell says with this baseline in place, the quarantine management and farm-gate hygiene of vineyards will improve industry knowledge about where phylloxera is and isn’t.

PBCRC researchers are currently working to establish the most suitable grid pattern for taking the soil core samples.

They will also compare the DNA sample method with two other methods: the ‘shovel method’ and another using emergence traps to catch insects inside an inverted container placed on the soil, to determine performance against selected criteria.

This research strongly supports the wine industry’s focus on identifying and managing biosecurity threats to ensure the ongoing health of grapevines. Healthy vines are the foundation for a prosperous Australian wine industry.

–Laura Boness

To learn more about phylloxera, click here or watch this video about the Phylloxera Rezoning Project carried out in Australia:

Potential in the north of Australia

Businessman Romeo Roxas, who owns a cattle ranch in California and is in the process of buying for than $20 million worth of cattle station in the Northern Territory, commented in The Australian Financial Review yesterday about the potential in the north of Australia – comparing it to America’s west 200 years ago.

The Northern Australia Investment Forum, currently being held in Darwin from 8–10 November, is an invitation-only event offering international companies the opportunity to meet with proponents of projects in Australia and to hear from senior government ministers about what is being done to further enhance Australia’s investment attractiveness.

Read more about growing Australia’s north below.


NEW OPPORTUNITIES abound for Australia’s farm industries to expand food exports into Asian markets following landmark free trade agreements with Japan and Korea in 2014.

The Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement (JAEPA) came into force on 15 January 2015, allowing Australian exporters to benefit from two rounds of tariff cuts in the first half of this year. The Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement (KAFTA) took effect on 12 December 2014, and eliminates tariffs for 84% of Australia’s exports to Korea.

The past Minister for Industry and Science, Ian Macfarlane, welcomed the agreements as delivering long-term benefits to the national economy, particularly to research and agriculture.

“This is a huge opportunity as Japan is our second largest trading partner and Korea is our fourth, with combined two-way goods and services trade worth more than $100 billion,” he said.

Beef, dairy, honey, herbs, cordials, juices and soft drinks were just a few examples of homegrown food exports that will benefit from greater access to Asian markets, he said.


OVER 25 YEARS, the CRC Program has helped target and secure access to Asia for some of Australia’s biggest food export industries. Australian scientists working in areas such as plant and livestock genetics, food processing, soil nutrients, biosecurity, and improved supply chain management have been vital to establishing links with Asian universities and business leaders.

The Australian Seafood CRC developed new markets for dried, salted and brined products such as mussels, scallops and squid in Japan and Hong Kong. The former CRC for Beef Genetic Technologies used genomics to improve the quality of beef export products and secure new markets in Asia, and the Sheep CRC has made Australian lamb a premium product.

The Desert Knowledge CRC, which transitioned into the CRC for Remote Economic Participation (CRC-REP) and its research consultancy Ninti One, also worked on developing primary industry opportunities for Northern Australia that could benefit Indigenous communities. These include precision pastoral management technologies, potential bush food industries and barramundi aquaculture.

The Asian Development Bank estimates that Asia will account for almost half of the world’s economic output by 2050, and there will be strong global competition for the region’s markets and investment. Australia currently accounts for only 5% of global food trade, although our food exports are worth more than $30 billion a year. At current production levels, we could supply around 2% of Asia’s food requirements. But could we increase that figure significantly if Northern Australia was developed to grow, and transport, more crops for Asian markets?


IN 2014, THE COALITION government commissioned a White Paper on Developing Northern Australia – an area north of the Tropic of Capricorn stretching around three million square kilometres across Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland.

A decade ago, agricultural production in Northern Australia was worth around $4.4 billion a year, and was dominated by beef, sugar and bananas. By 2010, this grew to $5.2 billion – around 11% of Australia’s total agricultural production – and included crops such as guar beans, chia, chickpeas, soybeans and wild rice.

In a submission to the Federal Government’s National Food Plan Green Paper in 2012, Australian-owned company SunRice emphasised the critical role of water in food production.

“This is a huge opportunity… with combined two-way goods and services trade worth more than $100 billion.”

“Australia’s food security is directly related to water security,” the SunRice submission said. “At the peak of the recent drought when water allocations to rice farmers were reduced to almost zero, rice production in Australia fell from an annual average above one million tonnes to just 19,000 tonnes. This level of production was far short of meeting even our domestic needs, and is a prime example of the importance of water in growing food to feed our nation and others.”

Rice is being grown again in the Burdekin region in north Queensland, and there are suggestions that improved genetics and better understanding of the northern climate could secure Australia’s rice industry against future dramatic production losses due to prolonged drought.


AUSTRALIA IS A GLOBAL leader in sustainable rice production, with around 1500 farms in New South Wales and Victoria feeding up to 20 million people a day around the world.

Potential in the north of Australia
Australian-owned company SunRice submitted a statement to the Australian Federal Government emphasising that our future food security relies on the availability of water.

Our rice farmers are the world’s most water efficient, using 50% less water than the global average to produce each kilogram of rice. They were also Australia’s first farm sector to develop a biodiversity strategy and a plan to reduce greenhouse emissions. Rice was an early, and enduring, success story for the CRCs. The CRC for Sustainable Rice Production started in 1997 at the Yanco Agricultural Institute, near Leeton in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, and concluded on 30 June 2005. It is a classic example of how a CRC can fast-track research results by working with partners in academic research, industry, government and – in this case, specifically – rice research colleagues in China and Japan. In just over seven years, the CRC’s many achievements included better pest controls, improved plant breeding systems, better milling and drying techniques, sustainable irrigation levels, a groundwater management program that was adopted as a UNESCO benchmark, new rice-based food products, and an assessment of salt tolerant wild rice varieties that could be grown in Northern Australia.

In 2003, the CRC’s director Dr Laurie Lewin was awarded one of Australia’s most prestigious science awards, the Farrer Memorial Medal, for his work with the CRC in breeding new rice varieties that are better suited to Australian conditions. In his recipient’s oration, Lewin stressed the importance of genetics to future global food security.

“Recent improvements in plant breeding have been rapid and it is now an exciting time to be involved in this science,” he said. “The rice genome has been sequenced and breeders now have a range of exciting tools to meet the important challenges. It is only 50 years since the Watson and Crick model for DNA was published, but the new genetics has given access to new tools including genetic markers and genetic transformation techniques.”


THE CSIRO ESTIMATES that the area for potential irrigated agriculture, supported by groundwater, in Northern Australia is between 50,000–120,000 ha. But water is only part of the solution to developing northern agriculture and new markets in Asia.

In a Food and Fibre Supply Chain study with the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, the CSIRO identified three challenges to expanding agriculture in the north to supply Asian markets: sourcing capital investment, cost-efficient production and supply, and establishing new and viable export markets.

GrowNORTH is a research and development consortium that evolved from a Federal Government pledge to develop a northern agriculture CRC, prior to Macfarlane and Prime Minister Tony Abbott announcing plans to create five Industry Growth Centres under the Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda.

“The north isn’t likely to become Asia’s food bowl, but it has the potential to become a reliable and important exporter of high quality food and seriously smart research skills.”

GrowNORTH CEO Mike Guerin says that harnessing the economic potential of the north proved to be “a wicked problem” – a social planning term that means there are complex and often conflicting interdependencies – in the past, chiefly because of “imposed ideas” that ignored geographic, social and climatic differences.

“Large-scale agriculture in the north is a high risk investment, and there have been failures in the past largely because of inadequate planning, financing and management. There’s also been a tendency to ignore, or attempt to work against, what makes the north a unique region,” he says.

“Sustainable development in the north is possible, but it must benefit all Australians. It can’t be viewed as a kind of frontier goldrush for lucrative Asian markets. The north isn’t likely to become Asia’s food bowl, but it has the potential to become a reliable and important exporter of high quality food and seriously smart research skills.

“If we get it right – and we accept that we will need to take the time, resources and patience to do that – Australia can gain a global reputation for using transformative research and economic modelling to create a world-class example of sustainable regional development.

“We will be a world leader in sustainable development, and researchers will come to the north to see how it’s done.”


GUERIN SAYS RESEARCH must look at “bigger picture” issues
in the north, rather than narrowly focusing on advancing single industries.

“We need to look at infrastructure, community support, building a skilled workforce that lives in the north, environmental outcomes, competing land uses and ways that agricultural diversity can benefit local economies,” he says.

“It’s a huge undertaking, and there will be valuable lessons along the way, but the benefits will be significant.”

Rod Reeve, managing director of the CRC-REP, says that building
robust local economies across remote areas in the north is vital to the region’s development. The CRC is working on plans to create more than 100 new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses in the north over the next decade, as well as more than 1200 small-to-medium enterprises.

It also aims to increase the productivity of remote pastoral
industries by around $300 million, and has developed a technology that could revolutionise the way cattle are managed in rangelands across the world. Reeve explains this technology as a remote sensing system that allows pastoral station managers to track and weigh cattle at watering points across a huge area, and to manage nutritional feeding programs.

“It’s an innovative system that gathers data on things like the numbers and profiles of the herd, conditions for market, growth rates and whether cows are pregnant or dry,” he says.

“All this can be done remotely, and potentially could replace the expense of aerial mustering which stresses cattle and makes them lose condition.”

The technology was developed by Ninti One and is in the final stages of a pilot study prior to commercialisation and local manufacture.

“We’re hoping it can be manufactured in Alice Springs,” says Reeve. “All the technology has been tested and developed in remote areas in the north, so it would be great to see its commercialisation go on to benefit a local economy.

Rosslyn Beeby

seafoodcrc.com

sheepcrc.org.au

crc-rep.com

nintione.com.au

New tool for grapevines

New tool for grapevines

Featured image: courtesy of Wine Australia

A new tool for grapevines, a free phone app developed by University of Adelaide researchers, will help grape growers and viticulturists manage their vines by giving a quick measure of vine canopy size and density.

The iPad and iPhone app uses the devices’ camera and GPS capability to calculate the size and density of the vine canopy and its location in the vineyard. The aim is to help users monitor their vines and manage the required balance between vegetative growth and fruit production. 

The development of the app – called VitiCanopy – has been supported by Wine Australia as part of a wider project investigating the relationships between vine balance and wine quality. 

“Overcropped vines or vines with excessive canopy are referred to as ‘out-of-balance’ – generally being associated with lower quality fruit and hence lower returns,” says project leader Dr Cassandra Collins, Senior Lecturer in Viticulture with the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine.

“To achieve vine balance, grapevines require enough leaf area to ripen the fruit and produce a desired fruit quality, but not too much that it’s detrimental to fruit development through shading or a higher incidence of disease.” 

Vine balance can be measured as a ratio of leaf area to fruit yield. Traditional ways, however, of measuring leaf area are tedious, laborious and time-consuming and can damage the vines – or alternatively it can require expensive and complex instruments. 

“Our app offers a very simple way to measure leaf area index (LAI),” says chief investigator Dr Roberta De Bei. “This measurement can then be related to fruit yield for an assessment of vine balance as well as capture canopy variation across a vineyard. The GPS capability of the app means that information gathered can also be mapped.” 

The research and development team also included Professor Steve Tyerman and Associate Professor Matthew Gilliham, University of Adelaide, and Dr Sigfredo Fuentes, University of Melbourne, and Treasury Wine Estates.

Wine Australia’s Research Development and Extension Portfolio Manager, Dr Liz Waters, says this new app will help viticulturists optimise vine balance for best grape quality. 

“Wine Australia is committed to helping viticulturists manage their vines to maximise quality, profit and sustainability and to improve competitiveness across the grape and wine community. We encourage growers to explore this new tool to help them get the most from their vineyards,” says Waters. 

The app is available from Apple’s app store. To use the app a grower takes a standardised image of the vine canopy. The app then analyses the image and calculates LAI, taking into account the canopy shape and density, and recording the time and location of the image. An android version of the app is being developed. 

The University’s commercialisation company, Adelaide Research & Innovation (ARI), has supported the release of the app. The project was supported by Wine Australia, the University of Adelaide Wine Future initiative (formerly the Wine2030 Research Network) and The Vineyard of the Future.

This article was first published on 22 October by the University of Adelaide. Read the original article here.


About Wine Australia

Wine Australia supports a competitive wine sector by investing in research, development and extension (RD&E), growing domestic and international markets and protecting the reputation of Australian wine.

Wine Australia is funded by grape growers and winemakers through levies and user-pays charges and the Australian Government, which provides matching funding for RD&E investments. 

Wine Australia is the trading name of the Australian Grape and Wine Authority, a Commonwealth statutory authority established under the Australian Grape and Wine Authority Act 2013.

 

tan spot

Saving grains

Each year, the fungal disease tan spot costs the Australian economy more than half a billion dollars. Tan spot, also known as yellow spot, is the most damaging disease to our wheat crops, annually causing an estimated $212 million in lost production and requiring about $463 million worth of control measures. Fungal disease also causes huge damage to barley, Australia’s second biggest cereal crop export after wheat. It should come as no surprise, then, that the nation’s newest major agricultural research facility, Curtin University’s Centre for Crop and Disease Management (CCDM), is focusing heavily on the fungal pathogens of wheat and barley.

Launched in early 2014, with the announcement of an inaugural bilateral research agreement between Curtin and the Australian Government’s Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), the CCDM already has a team of about 40 scientists, with that number expected to double by 2016.

“We are examining the interactions of plants and fungal pathogens, and ways and means of predicting how the pathogen species are going to evolve so that we might be better prepared,” says CCDM Director, Professor Mark Gibberd.

An important point of difference for the centre is that, along with a strongly relevant R&D agenda, its researchers will be working directly with growers to advise on farm practices. Influencing the development and use of faster-acting and more effective treatments is part of the CCDM’s big-picture approach, says Gibberd. This encompasses both agronomy (in-field activities and practices) and agribusiness (the commercial side of operations).

“We want to know more about the issues that challenge farmers on a day-to-day basis,” explains Curtin Business School’s John Noonan, who is overseeing the extension of the CCDM’s R&D programs and their engagement with the public. The CCDM, he explains, is also focused on showing impact and return on investment in a broader context.

Two initiatives already making a significant impact on growers’ pockets include the tan spot and Septoria nodorum blotch programs. Tan spot, Australia’s most economically significant wheat disease, is caused by the fungus Pyrenophora tritici-repentis. Septoria nodorum blotch is a similar fungal infection and Western Australia’s second most significant wheat disease.

Curtin University researchers were 2014 finalists in the Australian Museum Eureka Prize for Sustainable Agriculture for their work on wheat disease. Their research included the development of a test that enables plant breeders to screen germinated seeds for resistance to these pathogens and subsequently breed disease-resistant varieties. It’s a two-week test that replaces three years of field-testing and reduces both yield loss and fungicide use.

When fungi infect plants, they secrete toxins to kill the leaves so they can feed on the dead tissue (toxins: ToxA for tan spot, and ToxA, Tox1 and Tox3 for Septoria nodorum blotch). The test for plant sensitivity involves injecting a purified form of these toxins – 30,000 doses of which the CCDM is supplying to Australian wheat breeders annually.

“We have seen the average tan spot disease resistance rating increase over the last year or so,” says Dr Caroline Moffat, tan spot program leader. This means the impact of the disease is being reduced. “Yet there are no wheat varieties in Australia that are totally resistant to tan spot.”

“The development of fungicide resistance is one of the greatest threats to our food biosecurity, comparable to water shortage and climate change.”

Worldwide, there are eight variants of the tan spot pathogen P. tritici-repentis. Only half of them produce ToxA, suggesting there are other factors that enable the pathogen to infiltrate a plant’s defences and take hold. To investigate this, Moffat and her colleagues have deleted the ToxA gene in samples of P. tritici-repentis and are studying how it affects the plant-pathogen interaction.

During the winter wheat-cropping season, Moffat embarks on field trips across Australia to sample for P. tritici-repentis to get a ‘snapshot’ of the pathogen’s genetic diversity and how this is changing over time. Growers also send her team samples as part of a national ‘Stop the Spot’ campaign, which was launched in June 2014 and runs in collaboration with the GRDC. Of particular interest is whether the pathogen is becoming more virulent, which could mean the decimation of popular commercial wheat varieties.


Wheat fungal diseases can regularly cause a yield loss of about 15–20%. But for legumes – such as field pea, chickpea, lentil and faba bean – fungal infections can be even more devastating. The fungal disease ascochyta blight, for example, readily causes yield losses of about 75% in pulses. It makes growing pulses inherently risky, explains ascochyta blight program leader, Dr Judith Lichtenzveig.

In 1999, Western Australia’s chickpea industry was almost wiped out by the disease and has never fully recovered. With yield reliability and confidence in pulses still low, few growers include them in their crop rotations – to the detriment of soil health.

Pulse crops provide significant benefit to subsequent cereals and oilseeds in the rotation, says Lichtenzveig, because they add nitrogen and reduce the impact of soil and stubble-borne diseases. The benefits are seen immediately in the first year after the pulse is planted. The chickpea situation highlights the need to develop new profitable varieties with traits desired by growers and that suit the Australian climate.

The CCDM also runs two programs concerned with barley, both headed by Dr Simon Ellwood. His research group is looking to develop crops with genetic resistance to two diseases that account for more than half of all yield losses in this important Australian crop – net blotch and powdery mildew.

Details of the barley genome were published in the journal Nature in 2012. The grain contains about 32,000 genes, including ‘dominant R-genes’ that provide mildew resistance. The dominant R-genes allow barley plants to recognise corresponding avirulence (Avr) genes in mildew; if there’s a match between a plant R-gene and pathogen Avr genes, the plant mounts a defence response and the pathogen is unable to establish an infection. It’s relatively commonplace, however, for the mildew to alter its Avr gene so that it’s no longer recognised by the plant R-gene.

“This is highly likely when a particular barley variety with a given R-gene is grown over a wide area where mildew is prevalent, as there is a high selection pressure on mutations to the Avr gene,” explains Ellwood. This means the mildew may become a form that is unrecognised by the barley.

Many of the malting barley varieties grown in Western Australia, with the exception of Buloke, are susceptible to mildew. This contrasts with spring barley varieties being planted in Europe and the USA that have been bred to contain a gene called mlo, which provides resistance to all forms of powdery mildew.

Resistance to net blotch also occurs on two levels in barley. “As with mildew, on the first level, barley can recognise net blotch Avr genes early on through the interaction with dominant R-genes. But again, because resistance is based on a single dominant gene interaction, it can be readily lost,” says Ellwood. “If the net blotch goes unrecognised, it secretes toxins that allow the disease to take hold.”

On the second level, these toxins interact with certain gene products so that the plant cells become hypersensitised and die. By selecting for barley lines without the sections of genes that make these products, the crop will have a durable form of resistance. Indeed, Ellwood says his team has found barley lines with these characteristics. The next step is to determine how many genes control this durable resistance. “Breeding for host resistance is cheaper and more environmentally friendly than applying fungicides,” Ellwood adds.

“This is a massive achievement, and we have already shown that the use of more expensive chemicals can be justified on the basis of an increase in crop yield.”


Numerous fungicides are used to prevent and control fungal pathogens, and they can be costly. Some have a common mode of action, and history tells us there’s a good chance they’ll become less effective the more they’re used. “The development of fungicide resistance is one of the greatest threats to our food biosecurity ahead of water shortage and climate change,” says Gibberd. “It’s a very real and current problem for us.”

Fungicides are to grain growers what antibiotics are to doctors, explains Dr Fran Lopez-Ruiz, head of the CCDM’s fungicide resistance program. “The broad-spectrum fungicides are effective when used properly, but if the pathogens they are meant to control start to develop resistance, their value is lost.” Of the three main types of leaf-based fungicides used for cereal crops, demethylation inhibitors (DMIs) are the oldest, cheapest and most commonly used.

Lopez-Ruiz says that to minimise the chance of fungi becoming resistant, sprays should not be used year-in, year-out without a break. The message hasn’t completely penetrated the farming community and DMI-resistance is spreading in Australia. A major aim within Lopez-Ruiz’s program is to produce a geographical map of fungicide resistance. “Not every disease has developed resistance to the available fungicides yet, which is a good thing,” says Lopez-Ruiz.

DMIs target an enzyme called CYP51, which makes a cholesterol-like compound called ergosterol that is essential for fungal cell survival. Resistance develops when the pathogens accumulate several mutations in their DNA that change the structure of CYP51 so it’s not affected by DMIs.

In the barley disease powdery mildew in WA, a completely new set of mutations has evolved, resulting in the emergence of fungicide-resistant populations. The first of these mutations has just been identified in powdery mildew in Australia’s eastern states, making it essential that growers change their management tactics to prevent the development of full-blown resistance. Critical messages such as these are significant components of John Noonan’s communications programs.

tan spot

tan spot

tan spot
The CCDM is researching solutions to plant diseases such as powdery mildew in barley (above top), and Septoria nodorum blotch (above middle) in wheat, with Dr Caroline Moffat (above bottom) leading a program to tackle the wheat tan spot fungus.

Resistance to another group of fungicides, Qols, began to appear within two years of their availability here. They are, however, still widely used in a mixed treatment, which hinders the development of resistance. Lopez-Ruiz says it’s important we don’t end up in a situation where there’s no solution: “It’s not easy to develop new compounds every time we need them, and it’s expensive – more than $200 million to get it to the growers”.

The high cost of testing and registering products can deter companies from offering their products to Australian growers – particularly if, as in the case of legumes, the market is small.

To help convince the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority that it should support the import and use of chemicals that are already being safely used overseas, the CCDM team runs a fungicide-testing project for companies to trial their products at sites where disease pressures differ – for example, because of climate. This scheme helps provide infrastructure and data to fast-track chemical registrations.

“This is a massive achievement, and we have already shown that the use of more expensive chemicals can be justified on the basis of an increase in crop yield.”


A global problem

More than half of Australia’s land area is used for agriculture – 8% of this is used for cropping, and much of the rest for activities such as forestry and livestock farming. Although Australia’s agricultural land area has decreased by 15% during the past decade, from about 470 million to 397 million ha, it’s more than enough to meet current local demand and contribute to international markets.

Nevertheless, the world’s population continues to grow at a rapid rate, increasing demands for staple food crops and exacerbating food shortages. Australia is committed to contributing to global need and ensuring the sustained viability of agriculture. To this end, Professor Richard Oliver, Chief Scientist of Curtin’s Centre for Crop and Disease Management (CCDM), has established formal relationships with overseas institutions sharing common goals (see page 26). This helps CCDM researchers access a wider range of relevant biological resources and keep open international funding opportunities, particularly in Europe.

“The major grant bodies have a very good policy around cereal research where the results are freely available,” says Oliver. “There’s also the possibility to conduct large experiments requiring lots of space – either within glasshouses or in-field – which would be restricted or impossible in Australia.” It’s a win-win situation.

Branwen Morgan

 

New biosecurity centre to stop fruit flies

Upgraded bio-security measures to combat fruit fly will be introduced in Australia, bringing added confidence to international trade markets.

South Australia is the only mainland state in Australia that is free from fruit flies – a critical component of the horticultural industries’ successful and expanding international export market.

A new national Sterile Insect Technology facility in Port Augusta, located in the north of South Australia, will produce billions of sterile male fruit flies – at the rate of 50 million a week – to help prevent the threat of fruit fly invading the state.

The new measures will help secure producers’ access to important citrus and almond export markets including the United States, New Zealand and Japan, worth more than $800 million this year.

The Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) introduces sterile flies into the environment that then mate with the wild population, ensuring offspring are not produced.

Macquarie University Associate Professor Phil Taylor says the fly, know as Qfly because they come from Queensland, presents the most difficult and costly biosecurity challenge to market access for most Australian fruit producers.

“Fruit flies, especially the Queensland fruity fly, present a truly monumental challenge to horticultural production in Australia,” he says.

“For generations, Australia has relied on synthetic insecticides to protect crops, but these are now banned for many uses. Environmentally benign alternatives are needed urgently – this is our goal.

The impetus behind this initiative is to secure and improve trade access both internationally and nationally for South Australia.

It will increase the confidence of overseas buyers in the Australian product and make Australia a more reliable supplier. Uncertainty or variation of quality of produce would obviously be a concern for our trading partners.”

South Australia’s Agriculture Minister Leon Bignell says the $3.8 million centre would produce up to 50 million sterile male Qflies each week.

“The State Government has invested $3 million and Horticulture Innovation Australia Ltd (HIA) has contributed $800,000 in this project and construction is expected to take 10 months,” Bignell says.

“While fruit fly is a major problem with horticultural crops in Australia’s other mainland states, South Australia remains fruit fly free, but we are still at risk of outbreak.”

“Producing male-only sterile Qflies has never been done before on this scale and this facility will have an enormous impact on the way in which we deal with outbreaks.”

Fruit fly management protects the commercial production of fruit and vegetables, including wine grapes and almonds, with an estimated farm-gate value of $851 million.

South Australia is also the only mainland state which has a moratorium on growing GM food crops and is one of the few places in the world free of the vine-destroying pest phylloxera.

“Because of these attributes, South Australian products stand out in the competitive global market, which is increasingly seeking clean and safe food and wine,” Bignell says.

The research partner consortium, SITplus, intends to invest about $50 million during the next five years to support the national fruit fly management program.

The consortium is a research group with experts from Macquarie University, Primary Industries and Regions SA’s Biosecurity SA and South Australian Research and Development Institute divisions, HIA, the CSIRO Health and Biosecurity Flagship, Plant & Food Research Australia, and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

– John Merriman

This article was first published by The Lead South Australia on 2 September 2015. Read the original article here.

Work on barren soil may bear fruit

Australian and Chinese scientists have made significant progress in determining what causes soil acidification – a discovery that could assist in turning back the clock on degraded croplands.

James Cook University’s Associate Professor Paul Nelson says the Chinese Academy of Sciences sought out the Australian researchers because of work they had done in Australia and Papua New Guinea on the relationship between soil pH levels and the management practices that cause acidification.

Professor Paul Nelson at work.
Professor Paul Nelson at work.

Building on the JCU work, scientists examined a massive 3600 km transect of land in China, stretching from the country’s sub-arctic north to its central deserts. The work yielded a new advance that describes the mechanisms involved in soils becoming acidified.

Nelson says soil degradation is a critical problem confronting humanity, particularly in parts of the world such as the tropics where land use pressure is increasing and the climate is changing. “We can now quantify the effect of, for instance, shutting down a factory that contributes to the production of acid rain,” he says.

Nelson says the research found different drivers of soil acidification processes in different types of soil across northern China. “This information is vital for designing strategies that prevent or reverse soil acidification and to help land managers tailor their practices to maintain or improve soil quality,” he says.

The Patron of Soil Science Australia, former Australian Ambassador to the United Nations and for the Environment, The Honourable Penny Wensley AC, welcomed news of the advance.

“With 2015 designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Soils, this is a very important year for soil scientists around the world. We need to promote greater awareness of the importance of soils and soil health and the role soil science has to play in addressing national and global challenges.”

In the context of the International Year of Soils, Wensley says: “We want to encourage greater cooperation and exchanges between soil scientists, to accelerate progress in research and achieve outcomes that will deliver practical benefits to farmers and land managers, working in diverse environments.

“This research project, drawing on the shared expertise of soil scientists from Australia’s James Cook University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is an exciting illustration of what can be achieved through greater collaboration,” she says.

Acidification is one of the main soil degradation issues worldwide, accelerated by water leaching through the soil. It is related mostly to climate, and the overuse of nitrogen-based fertiliser.

“The greater understanding of soil acidification causes this study has delivered could help improve soil management practices, not only in Australia and China, but around the world,” says Wensley.

The study has been published in the journal, Biogeosciences.

This article was first published by James Cook University on 19 August 2015. Read the original article here.

Pig and poultry welfare research receives $1 million grant

A $1 million grant from the South Australian government will go towards expanding the animal welfare research facilities at the University of Adelaide’s Roseworthy campus.

Roseworthy is home to one of Australia’s leading free-range pig and poultry research facilities, as well as the headquarters of the Pork Cooperative Research Centre.

The grant comes during renewed scrutiny in to pig farming practices, including the use of sow stalls or ‘gestation crates’. The practice is being banned in certain states and consumer demand is driving better welfare practices for farmed animals.

The money will be used to develop a remote animal behaviour monitoring system, an improved climate control system, and upgrades of the free-range poultry facility.

Professor Wayne Hein, Dean of Roseworthy campus, welcomed the grant.

“We have an outstanding collaborative hub at Roseworthy with some of the best animal science researchers in the country working at this site,” says Hein.

“Roseworthy is also the headquarters of the Pork Cooperative Research Centre. The strong alignment with the CRC on campus means that industry engagement in the research undertaken on the campus is seamless and beneficial to all parties.

“This funding will help establish the highest standards of animal welfare in animal production systems.”

This article was first published on The Lead on 30 July 2015. Read the original article here.

Growth Centre gets tick of approval

The Minister for Industry and Science, Ian Macfarlane, has approved the Food and Agribusiness Growth Centre which is part of the $225 million Industry Growth Centre Initiative. The Growth Centre headquarters will be located at the CSIRO’s Food Innovation Centre in Werribee, Victoria.

The four main areas the Growth Centre will be focusing on will be reducing regulatory burden, commercialising new products and services, engaging with global markets and supply chains, and improving workforce skills. Food Innovation Australia Ltd (FIAL) will receive $15.4 million from the Australian Government for the first four years of its operation as a Growth Centre, and look to increase this investment from industry and other sources.

The new Growth Centre board met for the first time on 29 June 2015, and various strategic issues relating to the food and agribusiness sector were discussed. Details about the forthcoming sectoral strategy that will be used to align the Growth Centre activities will be shared over the coming year.

This information was shared by the CRC Association Newsletter on 29 July 2015. Read the newsletter here.

New web-based ram selection app wows sheep breeders

The web-based app was launched today by the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC). The Sheep CRC developed the tool in conjunction with Telstra, Australia’s leading telecommunications provider, and leading software development company Pivotal Labs in San Francisco.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries has also been extensively involved throughout the development of the app, providing expertise from the initial concept to the final product.

During the final test runs before launch, approximately 20 sheep breeders, commercial producers and advisers previewed the system, which they say will dramatically simplify the ranking and purchase of rams, based on Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs).

Leading farm adviser Craig Wilson, of Craig Wilson & Associates, NSW, says RamSelect.com.au will take the hard work out of using ASBVs when searching for the right genetics to improve flock productivity. “RamSelect.com.au will be a game changer,” Wilson says. “We have known for a long time that ASBVs allow us to compare animals on genetic merit, without the effect of feeding or environment. The RamSelect app makes it quick and easy to rank animals against individual breeding objectives.

“For a lot of commercial producers, sifting through long lists of objective data was time consuming and difficult work – they can now find the genetics they need in a matter of seconds, and know that the recommendations are supported by objective data from Sheep Genetics.”

Sheep CRC chief executive James Rowe said RamSelect.com.au would also be an important marketing tool for breeders assisting clients to select ram teams.

“More and more commercial breeders are demanding objective ASBV data when shopping for rams,” says Rowe. “RamSelect.com.au ensures ram buyers can quickly check rams on offer against their breeding objective and prepare a ranked list prior to sale day. On sale day the buyer only needs to check the visual traits before making their purchase decisions.”

RamSelect.com.au is accessible on a computer, tablet or phone. It will search the Sheep Genetics databases – MERINOSELECT, LAMBPLAN and DOHNE MERINO – to quickly identify and rank rams for a defined breeding objective.

This article was first published on 23 July 2015 by the Sheep CRC. Read the original article here.

Robot automates bacteria screening in wine samples

A robotic liquid handling system at the Australian Wine Research Institute (AWRI) is automating the screening of large numbers of malolactic bacteria strains.

Using miniaturised wine fermentations in 96-well microplates, the Tecan EVO 150 robotic system is screening bacteria for MLF efficiency and response to wine stress factors such as alcohol and low pH.

The bacteria are sourced from the AWRI’s wine microorganism culture collection in South Australia and elsewhere.

The robot can prepare and inoculate multiple combinations of bacteria strains and stress factors in red or white test wine, and then analyse malic acid in thousands of samples over the course of the fermentation.

In one batch, for example, 40 bacteria strains can be screened for MLF efficiency and response to alcohol and pH stress in red wine, with over 6000 individual L-malic acid analyses performed.

The AWRI says that this high-throughput approach provides a quantum leap in screening capabilities compared to conventional MLF testing methods and can be applied to a range of other research applications.

Additionally, the phenotypic data obtained from this research is being further analysed with genomic information, which will identify potential genetic markers for the stress tolerances of malolactic strains.

First published at foodprocessing.com.au on 22 July. Read the original article here.

This article was also published by The Lead on 22 July 2015. Read the article here.

Two microbes hold key to superior feed crops

Scientists have identified two microbes that build bigger and more resilient feed crops, potentially boosting farmers’ bottom lines by millions of dollars.

The biotechnology research conducted at Flinders University in South Australia identified two strains of microbes that dramatically increase the ability of lucerne to fix atmospheric nitrogen, boosting the feed crop’s early growth and resilience, and ultimately its yield.

Research by medical biotechnology PhD student Hoang Xuyen Le drew on the hundreds of strains of endophytic actinobacteria, which grow naturally within legume roots. His research isolated and identified two strains of microbes that in laboratory and glasshouse trials were shown to promote growth in the shoots of the legume plants.

The research was supervised by Professor Chris Franco from Flinders and Ross Ballard from South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI). A patent has been lodged in relation to the two strains.

Nitrogen is absorbed by the plants through the formation of external nodules by symbiotic rhizobium bacteria that grow in the nodules. Franco says that following the inoculation of the lucerne seeds with spores of the actinobacteria, the nodules grew significantly larger, fixing greater amounts of nitrogen.

“Up to 50 or even 70 per cent more nitrogen was fixed,” says Franco.

The effect was to substantially improve the establishment of the lucerne, increase its resilience in drought conditions and also boost its yield.

“We found that our two main strains gave us a crop yield increase of 40 to 50 per cent in the glasshouse, and we would look for at least a 20 per cent improvement in the field,” says Franco.

He says as much as 25 per cent of the higher levels of nitrogen persisted in the soil, improving the growing conditions for subsequent crops.

The Flinders biotechnologists will now expand their trials on lucerne in the field, and will also look for similar effects in other legume crops, including peas, chick peas and faba and soya beans.

Further research is required to understand the underlying mechanism of the bugs: while it is likely that their natural propensity to produce bioactive compounds is partly responsible for increasing the general robustness of the inoculated lucerne by reducing disease, they may also be encouraging the growth of rhizobium bacteria in the soil.

Franco says that actinobacteria offer an environmentally friendly way of controlling disease, especially fungal root diseases such as Rhizoctonia, reducing the need for fossil-derived pesticides and fertiliser.

The potential to capture atmospheric nitrogen offers a major environmental benefit.

The legume seed crop, based in the South East of South Australia, is the basis of a national feed industry worth close to $100 million a year.

“This is very good news all round,” says Franco.

This article was first published by The Lead on 22 July 2015. Read the original article here.

Help to combat pest animals is only a click away

The toolkit is a one-stop shop of practical knowledge to arm farmers and land managers with the information and connections they need to combat pest animals.

IA CRC digital communications manager Keryn Lapidge said, “We are pleased to have the Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, officially launch PestSmart Connect today, recognising this as an important knowledge hub for tackling pest animal problems such as wild dogs, which have become a really big economic and social issue for Australian farmers.”

The website also links to the FeralScan website and app which provides people with the capability to map pest animal sightings and damage and then to use this information to track and control the problem.

“This website is really strong on connecting people and communities. A feature is the ‘connect’ portal which aims to provide contact details of agencies, organisations and groups that are active in pest animal management and can provide people with services, useful advice or assistance – at a practical on-ground level, but also at a policy level,” she said.

The PestSmart Connect website features pest animal species that are a having a major impact on biodiversity and agriculture in Australia including wild dogs, foxes, feral cats, rabbits and carp. There are handy glovebox guides, videos about trapping and baiting, case studies and links to assistance.

“We hope this will be a useful knowledge hub for farmers and land managers and we plan to continue to improve the resource over time,” Lapidge said.

The PestSmart Connect website www.pestsmart.org.au is the culmination of ten years of information gathering and research by the IA CRC – Australia’s largest integrated pest animal management research organisation.

Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, launches the PestSmart Connect website - a handy toolkit of pest animal management information for farmers and land managers.
Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, launches the PestSmart Connect website – a handy toolkit of pest animal management information for farmers and land managers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This article was first published by the Invasive Animals CRC on 16 June, 2015.

Lending fresh air to grain pest problem

The study is led by the Plant Biosecurity CRC, partnering with the Western Australian grower collective Mingenew-Irwin Group (MIG), and is part of the CRC’s program to find solutions to a global problem in the wheat industry that has intensified during the past decade – phosphine resistance. Phosphine is the industrial fumigant most widely used worldwide to kill and control beetles and weevils in stored grains, but its effectiveness is declining due to the development of resistance.

Former-owned and independent research company Kondinin Group has been engaged to trial an alternative practice called aeration. It’s been around as a concept for a long time but is not widely adopted. It requires cool, dry air to be pumped into stored grain. The CRC study has shown that this can be done simply and economically – and that it works.

“I think it’s pretty exciting in terms of looking for options and alternatives as well as supplementary solutions to combating insects in grain storage,” said Kondinin Group research manager and agricultural engineer Ben White, who has been running the experiment.

White and his team have been testing a simple set-up on 70 tonne cone-bottom silos – the typical type used throughout WA’s wheat belt. At the base of the silo, they place a 550 watt centrifugal fan that’s switched on and off according to ambient humidity and temperature as measured by an aeration controller mounted nearby. The conditions that cause the fan to switch on are determined by simple algorithms, one of which was developed many years ago and licensed by the CSIRO.

The aim is to only run the fans when ambient humidity is below 80%. If air temperature and humidity levels are suitable, air is pumped through the stored grain at the rate of 2–3 L per second, per tonne, which cools the grain. While this doesn’t kill insects, it reduces their activity significantly and creates conditions in which they are unable to breed.

Another benefit identified by the Kondinin trial is that aeration reduces proportions of non-sprouting grains. Aeration has been shown to produce a net benefit of over $2 per tonne, which is $140 per silo, and pays for the aeration system within a year. This is in addition to the other potential savings from reducing or eliminating phosphine use.

Sheila Charlesworth, executive officer for MIG, says the study proves there are economic benefits to aeration, and her growers intend to implement it. In addition, growers from NSW and Queensland who travelled to WA to observe the method have since adopted it in their home states.

– Karen McGhee

www.pbcrc.com.au

Drone used to drop beneficial bugs on corn crop

Photograph courtesy of Ausveg and Vegetables Australia

During his Summer Science Scholarship at UQ, Mr Godfrey investigated if drones could be used to spread the beneficial Californicus mite, a predatory mite which feeds on pest leaf eating mites onto crops infected with two spotted mites.

Godfrey said two spotted mites ate chlorophyll in leaves, reducing plant vigour and crop yield.

“As corn grows, it is very difficult to walk between the crop to spread beneficial bugs,” he said.

“A drone flying over the crop and distributing the insects from above is a much more efficient and cost-effective method.”

Godfrey began his project at the Agriculture and Remote Sensing Laboratory at UQ’s Gatton Campus, learning how drones function, before spending time at Rugby Farms to gain insight into potential uses for drones.

“I built a specific drone for the project, tailoring the number of propellers, stand, and size of the motor to suit the drone’s application,” he said.

“My initial concept for the ‘Bug Drone’ came from a seed spreader, and in the end I built an attachment to the drone that can be used to spread the mites over the crop from the air.”

2015-04-29_1605Initial designs using a cylinder-shaped container to hold the mites weren’t practical as it couldn’t hold enough of the predatory mites to make the process efficient.

“I used corflute material to make a large enough storage device for the mites,” Mr Godfrey said.

“The seed spreader then acts as the distributer as it has a small motor powering it.”

The device is controlled remotely from the ground.

“We’ve tested the product at Rugby Farms and I’ve successfully proved the concept that drones can be used to spread beneficial bugs,” Mr Godfrey said.

“There is still a lot of work to be done, but the most difficult part is to work out how to control the volume of bugs being distributed at the one time.

“The next step is to monitor the crops and to see what happens after the bugs have been dropped.

“Remote sensing with precision agriculture is an interesting field, and it has opened my eyes to the career opportunities in this field,” he said.

Students can study precision agriculture at The University of Queensland Gatton in a course run by Associate Professor Kim Bryceson who also manages the Agriculture and Remote Sensing Laboratory.

Eyes on the ground

Dog ‘Facebook’ to manage Aussie pest problem

Facial recognition technology is  being used by the Invasive Animals CRC  to identify, track and control  wild dog populations, which cause  significant damage to Australian farms.
Facial recognition technology is being used by the Invasive Animals CRC to identify, track and control wild dog populations, which cause significant damage to Australian farms.

It’s estimated that wild dogs cost Australian farmers more than $65 million each year – a small part of the estimated $1 billion annual price of animal pests to agriculture. Pest monitoring is an important part of ensuring control strategies are effective, and automated technologies that promise more efficient and detailed monitoring are under investigation.

Southern Downs Regional Council in Queensland is working with Australian agricultural tech company Ninox Robotics to spot wild dogs and other pests in their region. The project involves using unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) equipped with thermal imaging cameras, which can map dozens of square kilometres of countryside in a few hours.

The Invasive Animals CRC (IA CRC), NSW Department of Primary Industries and CRC partners have developed camera trap technology with facial recognition software – similar to that used by Facebook to tag your friends – to identify individual dogs and help combat the wild dog problem. Initial tests in northern NSW were able to pinpoint individual dogs with 87% accuracy. The researchers are seeking further funding to turn the technology into user-friendly software for widespread use.

Future versions could monitor other pests including feral cats, and threatened species, says IA CRC researcher Paul Meek. “Technology is providing us with new opportunities to carry out research and management,” says Meek. “And it’s already changing the way we do things.”


Drones streamline cattle musters

iStock_000035347982_LargeMustering cattle on large Australian stations is a time consuming, expensive and sometimes dangerous operation. Before mustering can begin, graziers need to locate livestock using helicopters, horses, quadbikes and motorbikes, sometimes setting up remote camps.

By mapping the cattle’s location, drone technology under development by the CSIRO could potentially halve mustering costs, says project leader and farming systems specialist Dr Dave Henry. Using an off-the-shelf drone and thermal camera, the researchers accurately located cattle on the Lansdown Research Station near Townsville in 2013, and they are seeking funding for large-scale trials – the next step towards a marketable product.

“Technology is providing us with new opportunities to carry out research and management.”

Using sensors, drones could also monitor feed in paddocks, optimising animal production and minimising environmental impact. “Ultimately, graziers and land managers could manage cattle and their environment, and their whole farm business, in a more precise, timely and informed manner,” says Henry.


Satellites drive precision tractors

Precision agriculture uses sensing technologies, from satellites to drones, to help automate tasks like sowing and harvesting. The benefits of satellite positioning in agriculture are substantial, with an analysis by Allen Consulting predicting it will pump up to $28 billion into the Australian economy by 2030.

Improved satellite positioning in agriculture will yield greater navigational accuracy for unmanned farming vehicles such as drones and automated tractors.
Improved satellite positioning in agriculture will yield greater navigational accuracy for unmanned farming vehicles such as drones and automated tractors.

A collaboration including the CRC for Spatial Information (CRCSI) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has developed positioning technology for a driverless tractor using GPS and the Japanese Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS). In summer trials in the Riverina, NSW, the tractor navigated rows of crops to an accuracy of 5 cm.

Existing technologies rely on mobile phone coverage and a costly, dense network of ground-based antennas called reference stations. These improve the accuracy of the machinery’s satellite-derived position from several metres to a few centimetres.

But mobile coverage and expensive antennas “are barriers to adoption in remote Australia,” says Dr Phil Collier, CRCSI research director. The researchers’ alternative requires fewer reference stations, instead transmitting position corrections to the tractor via a satellite communication channel unique to QZSS. This approach promises multiple benefits for farmers in remote areas.
Traversing the same ground each time, the tractors use less fuel and reduce erosion. The day may even come where fleets of robotic tractors work overnight, says Collier.


Managing bushfire threat

Automation can also play a major role in predicting and managing the threat of bushfires. Typically, emergency services and researchers rely upon observations by satellites, from aircraft and on the ground.

Drones could provide valuable extra data, says Dr Thomas Duff, a Bushfire & Natural Hazards CRC researcher at the University of Melbourne who specialises in simulations that predict fire behaviour. In contrast to helicopters, unmanned vehicles eliminate risks to pilots, and are cheaper and more manoeuvrable, enabling more detailed observations.

With Country Fire Authority Victoria, researchers at the CSIRO
are using drones to make observations of controlled fires for use in bushfire simulations. The RISER (Resilient Information Systems for Emergency Response) collaboration based at the University of Melbourne is monitoring grasslands to better understand how they dry out each year. Duff says this research is critical to more accurate predictions of fire behaviour.

invasiveanimals.com

crcsi.com.au

bnhcrc.com.au