Heatwaves and frost events have been the focus of tremendous research activity over decades, generating a sizeable amount of data from Australian environments. Parallel to this growth of data and expansion of knowledge has been the development of new agtech tools and methods of monitoring the environment, but grower-ready tools for frost and heat management have been scarce.
A four-year, $6.26 million ($9.5 million overall) investment with CSIRO by GRDC has taken the opportunity to converge both the analysis of data and new agtech tools to enable growers to make more-precise decisions relating to climatic constraints. The project has gained the acronym FAHMA – Frost and Heat Management Analytics.
Dr Julianne Lilley is co-leader of FAHMA, which brings together many grains industry players across Australia to focus on the issue. Dr Lilley says the time was right to try a different approach to seeking solutions to managing these constraints.
“It is about working with people who have gained insight as well as amassed data on these issues by combining the data and sharing insights to identify gaps in our knowledge,” she says.
Core to the project is to improve and validate frost and heat damage functions in the Agricultural Production Systems sIMulator (APSIM) crop model for wheat, barley, canola, lentils and chickpeas, so we can improve the ability to predict the impact of these events on grain yield.
“As lentils and chickpeas are lagging behind, with few studies on the impacts of frost and heat on these crops, field-based research on these will be carried out concurrently in the FAHMA project.”
By combining the science of temperature mapping with crop damage caused by frost and heat stress, the project aims to integrate data over large spatial areas but also deliver sub-paddock scale insights to growers.
Fellow FAHMA co-leader Dr David Deery, also from CSIRO, says by combining these data sources and working with renowned agtech companies, growers and advisers will be able to make better-informed decisions for managing these climate risks pre-season and in-season.
The project vision is depicted in Figure 1.
“Crucial to the project has been engagement with grower groups, research agencies and agtech companies from the start,” Dr Deery says.
“It is fundamental to understanding the needs of growers and advisers and to design solutions that are user-friendly and supported by data and knowledge.
The project is taking a more-practical approach by working backwards from the needs of the end-users.
The project partners include: CSIRO (lead agency), Eratos, Square V, Hillridge, Pairtree Intelligence, Agworld, DataFarming, Elders, Delta Agribusiness, Birchip Cropping Group, Grower Group Alliance, NSW Department of Primary Industries, South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Charles Sturt University and the University of Queensland (Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation).
The project started with a consultation phase using Square V, a regional Victorian company that specialises in user experience research for designing and building the right product that meets the needs of end users.
Square V consulted with growers, agronomists, grower group leaders and frost and heat researchers across Australia to gain insights into management needs and constraints.
The data streams created in both APSIM and the GRDC National Phenology Initiative have taken years to assemble and GRDC is now seeing leading research organisations seeking to collaborate with new investment from its GrainInnovate agtech program to build capability and take the research forward.
GrainInnovate-supported businesses such as Pairtree Intelligence, DataFarming and Hillridge are bringing their capabilities to the challenge.
“These partnerships will enable transformation of the science into analytics products that aid key sowing decisions, in-crop management decisions, and underpin the development of new risk management tools,” Dr Deery says.
The project is set to validate its first tool, based on minimum temperature mapping using temperature sensors.
This work has been undertaken by Dr Uday Nidumolu and his team from CSIRO with Dr Peter Hayman from SARDI. The maps generated are accurate and at a scale that is relevant for growers to act upon.
The GrainInnovate investees will be involved in the validation work. DataFarming provides new digital tools and precision agriculture technology based on satellite imagery, which now services some 35,000 farms. Its products help growers manage spatial variability across paddocks, identifying where to apply inputs for the maximum return.
DataFarming will deploy the outputs of the CSIRO research into practical solutions for when events such as frost occur. For example, near-real-time frost maps will direct where to check for damage, and rapidly determine the extent of losses, to help with decisions such as cut for hay or let the crop go through to harvest.
“Agronomists are often under a lot of pressure to quickly make the right decision over large areas of crop. This tool will definitely help that process and will be available on the phone or tablet in the paddock,” says DataFarming managing director Tim Neale.
Pairtree Intelligence specialises in the integration of sensors, services, apps and imagery. It has the capability to connect these tools in user-friendly dashboards or, with permission, share that data to other providers. Within the FAHMA project, Pairtree will share frost data with farm management platforms, so that all parties can monitor crop health.
Hillridge has built a platform that helps farmers buy insurance for extreme weather events, such as the deep frosts and heat stress events that lower the yields of winter crops. Farmers log on to the platform and can create a bespoke policy for their farm.
“Weather insurance has been hampered by a lack of weather monitoring stations that are close enough to farms to be of use for insurance. By using direct satellite-based readings of overnight ground temperatures, insurers could use our platform to offer cover to all grain farmers, regardless of how far the nearest Bureau of Meteorology station is,” explains Hillridge’s chief executive, Dale Schilling.
Keep a watch out for more tools becoming available for growers through the FAHMA project.