What is digital agriculture?
Digital agriculture is the use of digital technology to integrate agricultural production from the paddock to the consumer. These technologies can provide the agricultural industry with tools and information to make more informed decisions and improve productivity.
Trends driving digital technology in agriculture
Victoria’s farmers contribute one third of Australia’s food and fibre exports. Demand for Victorian produced food is set to grow as the world’s population increases from seven billion to almost 10 billion over the next 30 years. A growing global middle class, particularly among our neighbours in Asia, is further bolstering the prospects for food and fibre export growth.
While demand is set to grow, farmers are facing the challenges of a changing climate. Increased temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns, more frequent extreme weather events, and reductions in water availability. In this environment, farmers must continue to innovate to maintain and improve productivity to meet demand.
Digital technologies have the potential to provide farmers with the information and ability to meet these challenges and seize opportunities for growth.
But it is not just about farmers. Consumers both at home and abroad are becoming more informed about the products they buy. They demand high quality and sustainably produced food and fibre and want to know more about where their products come from. Digital technologies can enable improved traceability of agricultural products, providing peace of mind for consumers and increased value for farmers.
Opportunities to lift productivity in the agricultural sector lie in new and emerging technologies such as robotics, new packaging material, biotechnology and digital and wireless technologies for data measurement, weather monitoring, animal monitoring, geospatial monitoring, and precision application of water and chemicals.
Robotics are being introduced to the dairy, poultry and beef farming industries. Applications include autonomous feeding and milking, egg collection and sorting, and autonomous cleaning. These technologies are helping early detection and treatment of animal health issues.
In cropping, less waste and higher yields are being generated by equipment programmed for variable seeding rates and depths based on soil property and moisture data, derived from satellite imagery. Digital infra-red light and heat sensors combined with geographic information system technology in drones are used measure paddock crop health to inform decisions about irrigation, pest management, fertiliser applications and harvesting.
Sensors and electronic identification
Integrated digital animal health biometric sensors and electronic identification devices enable farmers to rapidly respond to cases of animal stress or disease, helping to increase livestock production and improve livestock health.
Case study: New irrigation system for Shepparton East orchard
In 2015, Maurice Silverstein decided to upgrade his irrigation system on his apple and pear orchard at Shepparton East to an automated drip system.
This system allows him to access real time soil moisture readings from sensors across the orchard. This system, which also involved a shift from sprays to drip irrigation, has resulted in more efficient and less water usage. The system also alerts him to problems in the system, such as blockages or leaks and can be controlled by an app on his phone. He can now respond more quickly than if relying on field inspections alone.
Maurice says he can pretty much manage his irrigation system from anywhere so long as he has internet coverage and, while he needs to be close at hand to fix any problems, he now has greater flexibility in how he manages his orchard. This system has allowed Maurice to be more efficient with his time and water.
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