Data about Australia's environment is growing as more satellites, sensors, drones and other systems monitor our land.
But much progress still needs to be made in improving access to and use of that data to benefit our environment and agricultural sector.
Each of the finalists in the agriculture category of 2022 iTnews Benchmark Awards is aiding that progress.
And the finalists are:
- Bartle Frere Bananas' Data-Driven Sustainable Smart Farming project
- AgBioEn and LAB3 solution deployment for renewable energy
- Federation University's Visualising Australasia’s Soils
Bartle Frere Bananas: Data-Driven Sustainable Smart Farming project
Bartle Frere Bananas is involved in a sustainable farming project funded by backers including the Australian government's National Landcare program, Horticulture Innovation Australia and Hitachi Vantara.
The project aims to use digital technology to support sustainable farming practices, and improve transparency about how bananas are grown.
For instance, the firm worked with Hitachi Vantara to establish real-time data feeds from a range of sources, including soil sensors and trails, inline nitrate sensors, and from an on-farm weather monitoring station. Algorithms informed by farmers and Hitachi Lumada Manufacturing Insights helped to make decisions about irrigation fertilisation and plant care.
"Everyone's aiming to get transparency," Bartle Frere Bananas managing director Gavin Devaney said. "Everyone wants to know where their food comes from."
"This system gives an end result of consumer confidence to the people buying the bananas."
AgBioEn and LAB3 solution deployment for renewable energy
Australia's biofuel usage is much lower than some nations. However, increasing demand from companies such as Qantas as well as trucking and shipping companies is likely to drive growth in consumption in the years ahead.
Melbourne-based renewable energy business AgBioEn is working on increasing biofuel yields and is doing this in collaboration with La Trobe University scientists, and Microsoft partner Lab3 on a crop trial in Victoria.
According to Lab3's Alan Blanchet, most fuel trials are observational.
"We've done a few things that are different in this field trial. Number one, we had a constant stream of data going back wirelessly through our cloud platform. So it's minute-by-minute readings," he said.
"We also put our web station right next to the crops so they have live microclimate data next to the field and that's also a very important facet of how the crop is performing and how the treatments affect that crop."
Finally, participants were provided with multispectral imagery.
Data generated by Lab3's sensors was sent to the Azure cloud, which enabled University scientists to develop data models capable of accommodating various environmental conditions.
Federation University'a Visualising Australasia’s Soils
According to the nation's Cooperative Research Centre for High-Performance Soils, soil health is critical to natural ecosystems. Underperforming soils cost Australian farmers billions of dollars in lost revenue each year.
To help tackle this problem, the CRC is undertaking what it says is the largest collaborative soil research effort in Australia's history.
The data for that research will come from the Visualising Australasia Soils project, which is creating a federated system of Australian soil data and is designed to be used by farmers, says Peter Dahlhaus, Associate Professor and Principal Research Fellow at the Centre for Research and digital innovation at Federation University Australia.
Connecting and harmonising the data has been challenging.
"What we've had to build here is a data aggregator. It's a cloud-based data aggregator with a self-serve system for people to log in and load data into that," Dahlhaus said.
"As people do that, the data gets loaded into the system and mapped to international data schema."
That means the data from disparate sources can be mapped to a common standard, which he describes as an open standard run the by the community.
Watch the mini-documentary series
Thank you to every organisation that entered the Best Agriculture Project Award category.
Watch the rest of the mini-documentaries about the 2022 iTnews Benchmark Awards finalists’ projects here.
On June 15, the award winners will be announced at a ceremony and dinner hosted by KPMG in Barangaroo, Sydney.