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  • Mango farmers in Australia’s Top End have drastically cut their export supply chain into Asia thanks to new direct flights from Darwin to Hong Kong, and speculation is in the air that their peers in Cairns might do the same.

  • Total winter crop production in Australia for 2018 is expected to drop by 12% to 33.2 million tonnes, with production declines forecast in all eastern states, according to the latest Australian crop report from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (ABARES).

  • The decision to pursue improved profitability via higher-value grain sales or via increased yields and higher volumes is a constant concern facing the Australian grain industry as it looks to achieve efficiencies and preserve the competitiveness of Australian grain in global markets, according to a new report from Rabobank. 

  • The Australian pomegranate industry is on the verge of an exciting period of growth, largely due to a major research project, being led by a South Australian research organisation.

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Oct. 12 forecast Australian wheat production and exports in 2018-19 to be the lowest since 2007-08.


  • A USDA-Agricultural Research Service area-wide integrated weed control study started in 2015 is investigating weed harvesting and destruction tactics deployed in Australia and applying them to U.S. fields.

  • Through the cacophony of the UN’s global climate talks, an Australian farmer is quietly spreading his plan to reforest the world.

  • Australia — In a community of only about 100 people, Louise Hennessy says, neighbors need to look out for each other. Whenever someone goes quiet for too long, she picks up the phone to check that everything is all right. In recent months, more often than not, the answer has been no.

  • A unique Australian-developed atmosphere management technology system is proving to be very popular throughout the horticulture sector, with substantial growth in on-farm use across many regions nationally and overseas.

  • The SwagBot and the more affordable option Digital Farmhand, both from Australian startup Agerris, are now being commercialised and will be available in Australia and overseas.
     
    As a professor of Robotics and Intelligent Systems at the University of Sydney, Salah Sukkarieh and his team have been developing air and ground robotic solutions for the agricultural industry since 2005. Their research at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics resulted in the founding of startup Agerris.


    Prototypes of the SwagBot robot have recently been tested and proved to be useful for weeding, pasture monitoring, soil sampling and animal monitoring. Agerris has since then raised $ 6.5 million from Uniseed, Carthona Capital and BridgeLane Group, for building commercial smaller than tractor-sized robots.


    Low cost robotics for the agricultural industry
    The work on the robots started after Sukkarieh received funding from a cattle grower to look at low cost robotics for the agricultural industry in general. “Because it was a donor fund, I felt that one of the robots we should build was for the grazing livestock industry”, he explains.

    Recently, Agerris was able to test 2 prototypes of the SwagBot. Sukkarieh: “Testing has gone really well. We built 2 versions of the SwagBot and were able to demonstrate them on different grazing livestock farms. The technology has now been spun off to be commercialised.”

    Identifying and eradicating weeds
    Farmers can use the robots for identifying and eradicating weeds, monitor pastures, row and tree crops and for monitoring animal welfare and herd cattle. “SwagBot can traverse around very difficult environments such as undulating terrain, over logs, rocks and ditches”, says Sukkarieh. “It can automatically detect weeds and spray them. SwagBot can also detect individual animals with the hope of detecting any sickness in animals.”

    The SwagBot has sensors on board such as GPS, vision and laser that provide navigation and collision avoidance information to the computing system on board. It works with onboard path planning and control algorithms that help the robot go around obstacles and track animals.

    SwagBot works together with drone
    The SwagBot also has the ability to work together with a drone. The drone provides high level mapping information of the terrain and detecting weeds in general so that SwagBot can define more accurate planning to those weeds and can easier avoid obstacles. It is battery powered and can get about 6 hours of activity before recharge. The recharge can happen at solar points around the farm.


    The other robot Agerris built is the Digital Farmhand. This robot was designed for row and tree crops and gives small-scale farmers around the world a cheaper option. “It is meant to focus on low cost applications for farmers and for mums and dads”, emphasises Sukkarieh. “It has on board sensing and machine learning algorithms that help build models of individual plants. This way we can minimise the amount of chemicals used for spraying and weeding, as well as help farmers understand their crop growth characteristics.”

    Sukkarieh says a better environment management, such as better care of weeds or better management of animals can save farmers money.

    Useful addition to the aging Australian agricultural workforce
    The robots can also be a useful addition to the aging Australian agricultural workforce, he explains. “Working on the land is very hard and farmers are getting older. With the robotics technologies we are building, we are able to assist farmers with the daily chores on the farm.”

    The robots can potentially excite the next generation of farmers as well. Sukkarieh: “We now have a program were the Digital Farmhand is taken to schools for a term and the kids learn how to code the robots in an agriculture setting.”

    Prices not yet known
    Both SwagBot and Digital Farmhand are now being commercialised. Sukkarieh says he cannot yet name a price, since Agerris just started the commercialisation process. “We will know more as we work closely with farmers. However, they are meant to be low cost solutions for all growers.”

    The latest research of Sukkarieh is focusing on non-chemical solutions to weeding and robotics for crop manipulation such as fruit harvesting.

  • Amid growing evidence and awareness of the impact of industrial agriculture on the environment, climate, public health, farming communities and local economies, an “underground insurgency” as Charles Massy calls it, is transforming the practice and culture of agriculture.

  •  China’s grain output has nearly quintupled over the past 70 years, according to a report from the country’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

  • Australia’s drought has prevailed since 2015 with the past two years being extremely tough on agriculture.

  • Millions of hectares of sandy, infertile Australian farmland could benefit from the commercialisation of a South African shrub, allowing farmers to better carry sheep over the summer-autumn period.

  • Australian startup thingc Robotics expects to deliver its first commercial agricultural robot in 18 months.

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