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Partnerships and vision are key to an autonomous future

Digital agriculture and automated precision technologies are changing the future grain operations.
Photo: Evan Collis


Big value that does not come easy

The digital agricultural revolution is among the innovations that guided the development of GRDC’s 2023–28 RD&E Plan. The significant gross benefit on offer from digital agronomy and automation was highlighted by the cross-RDC Precision to Decision (P2D) project.

With the advent of generative AI and booming capabilities in satellite imagery, the potential to create value for growers using new sensing, analytics and automation technologies is greater than ever before. Furthermore, technologies such as the site-specific application of inputs and the automated optimisation of machines and decision-making can help deliver scalable outcomes in sustainability-related targets.

But many of these opportunities will not put dollars in growers’ pockets by themselves. Higher-value opportunities come with more cost, risk and difficulty. The commercial challenges in scaling new agtech products in the small yet diverse Australian market can be even bigger than the scientific challenges required to build them.


The Grain Automate strategy

It is this grouping of high-value but difficult-to-crack opportunities that led to the projects featured in the July, 2024, issue of the GroundCover Supplement.

Grain Automate is a coordinated grouping of new and future RD&E projects in machine autonomy and intelligent systems. This portfolio aims to help growers combine autonomous machine capabilities with agronomic ‘smarts’ tailored to our unique farming systems and operating environments.

Each of these projects focuses on a specific use-case, but in a coordinated way that forms the bedrock of a systems-based approach to agtech – one that can viably help scale autonomous and intelligent farming systems in the Australian grains industry.

For example, GRDC is accelerating the development of new site-specific weed management tools for growers.Weed maps are being translated into predictive models of weed population dynamics. These are being used to generate actionable zonal layers that target the weed seedbank across the farm and feed into variable-rate prescriptions for pre-emergent herbicides being developed by Syngenta, and zonal analytics to better guide the use of residual herbicides. Verge Ag’s logistics software could then help complete the site-specific application of pre-ems and post-ems even more efficiently across large, complex operations.

The synergies and collaborations between projects in Grain Automate, and across companies and research organisations involved, are incredibly strong and bode well for Australian growers.


Looking forward

If there’s one thing the agtech industry has learned across the globe it’s the importance of partnerships. No one can do it alone. A whole-of-value-chain approach is needed to develop and scale machine autonomy and intelligent systems, especially in the small and diverse yet innovative market that is Australia.

While we are excited about the potential in the decade ahead, this Supplement will showcase more of the here and now and some of the building blocks to help get there.

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