Autosteer and GPS guidance brought a step-change to broadacre farming practices, reducing operator fatigue, increasing accuracy and improving efficiency. But with increasing production and machinery servicing costs, where will the next transformation come from?
GRDC’s Manager Transformational Technologies Liam Ryan says “The timeliness of operations is a key profit driver in Australian grain production systems. In-paddock operations such as seeding, spraying, spreading and harvest all have a narrow window in which they need to be undertaken. Growers encounter financial losses when breakdowns, inefficiencies or poor coordination affect the ability to complete a task within the optimum window.”
Verge Ag saw the opportunity to explore this question and, specifically, the transition to autonomous farming by introducing its novel approach to planning equipment pathways.
“We are developing a solution that helps farmers to execute field operations remotely, which enables farming to be truly autonomous,” chief operating officer of Verge Ag, Godard says.
Verge Ag says it combines entrepreneurs, investors, farmers, software developers and even aerospace engineers to bring “out-of-the-box thinking” to agriculture.
About the technology
“Our product, Launch Pad™, simplifies farm planning to reduce in-field decision making,” says Godard.
We look at in-paddock operations from the perspective of both the paddock and the equipment. Using digital elevation models to characterise the topography and knowledge of the terrain and other field spatial attributes, we design paths for equipment – paths that are efficient from cost and sustainability perspectives (such as traffic compaction and erosion issues).
“With Launch Pad™ we are helping farmers consider all potential scenarios when planning field operations to develop a controlled, programmed, plan.”
The platform is a web application that can be accessed from a desktop computer, tablet or mobile phone device. It is compatible with all major Original Equipment Manufacturers’ display and guidance formats.
To develop the software Verge Ag is applying its own mathematical optimisation techniques to develop path-planning algorithms and artificial intelligence to precisely characterise the land.
“Our algorithms utilise boundary, topography and equipment information to automatically generate headlands and inner tracks,” Godard says.
Growers can then modify and optimise these track layouts to best fit their individual requirements. They can use our interactive tools to optimise paddock trafficking, manage headlands more efficiently, minimise overlap and machine operating time, and reduce soil compaction and erosion.
“Multiple plans can be created to compare operations on a paddock-by-paddock basis, allowing growers to plan, execute, refine and capture their operational knowledge over time.”
Supporting the endeavour
Verge Ag has paying customers in the US, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Ukraine and the European Union; primarily equipment dealership groups and precision agriculture consultants.
“We have around 20 million hectares of unique boundaries from all over the world in Launch Pad™. This was ingested by customers looking to trial the application and extract operational value. On average we acquire 40 or more new users a month. We have trial users in over 25 countries,” Godard says.
“As growers start to plan multiple operations on these 20 million hectares of boundaries we already have, we will be saving those path plans and other scenarios. This data will train our algorithms to build detailed models – a ‘digital twin’ of a farm. This digital twin will characterise the spatial attributes of a field (terrain, obstacles, etc) and also the equipment and soil. With every path plan created on that field, we are enhancing the digital model of that paddock.”
Verge were recently in Australia, touring the grower regions and attending evoke AG, the regions premier agtech event, hosted by AgriFutures.
“GrainInnovate investment has helped us scale our product to new geographies like Australia and focus on building local partnerships that can extract direct value from Launch Pad™.
“GrainInnovate’s investment also opened many opportunities to work with agricultural equipment dealerships and grain growers in Australia.”