Data61 partners with Ruralco to develop 'data-centric' solutions for agribusinesses

The organisations will be working together to bring improved efficiency and sustainability to the AU$50 billion agriculture industry.

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Image: CSIRO/Stefan Hrabar

CSIRO's data innovation group Data61 has partnered with Australian-listed agribusiness network Ruralco to develop solutions aimed at improving efficiency and sustainability in the agriculture sector through better use of data and emerging technologies.

Combining CSIRO's experience in data science research and engineering with Ruralco's on-ground network, the partnership will see the organisations explore the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, for livestock detection; development of long-range sensing for automation; adaptation of geospatial tools for improved decision-making; and fertiliser, nutrient, and water management, Data61 explained.

Ruralco is already allied with US-based UAV company PrecisionHawk, which provides "accessible, farmer-friendly" apps that analyse agricultural data in the US, South America, and Europe.

"Drone technology is facilitating data-driven decision-making in agriculture. Farmers can better analyse issues which affect productivity and sustainability such as effective nutrient delivery; plant growth; and combat biosecurity issues such as invasive species and pest infestation," Travis Dillon, CEO and managing director at Ruralco, said in a statement.

"Ruralco is well positioned to deliver innovative technology through our 600 national outlets."

Adrian Turner, CEO of Data61, said that the group's work in cyber physical systems, machine learning and analytics, software and computational systems, and decision sciences will play a role in the projects being rolled out in the coming months.

"Our technologies are capable of storing and distributing data efficiently and reliably over long distances. More importantly, we are helping to make remote sensing accurate, robust, secure, and trusted," Turner said in a statement.

According to Data61, AU$1.5 billion is invested annually in agricultural and rural research and development in Australia, which has contributed an average annual productivity growth of 2.8 percent over the last three decades.

The Australian agricultural industry is worth more than AU$50 billion and grew by AU$3.1 billion in 2015-16, Data61 said.

There are numerous other partnerships and initiatives in Australia aiming to support the industry. In March, Food Agility -- a consortium of commercial companies, universities, and farming industry bodies looking to facilitate the digital transformation of agriculture industry in Australia -- received AU$50 million as part of the Australian government's Cooperative Research Centres program.

The government funding added to the AU$160 million in contributions -- both monetary and non-monetary -- previously secured by the organisation from partners such as KPMG, National Australia Bank, IAG, and Bosch.

Food Agility previously said that its innovation programs will seek to deploy real-time big data market intelligence and predictive analytics to help farmers produce the right products at the right time, connect food producers with consumers in new ways, and develop a common knowledge base.

Melbourne-based accelerator SproutX earlier this year closed its AU$10 million agtech venture capital fund with backing from Artesian Venture Partners and superannuation fund Hostplus, after launching the nation's first agricultural-focused coworking space. The SproutX Venture Capital Fund is investing in the agtech startups accepted into SproutX's accelerator programs over the next four years.

SproutX also recently partnered with Sydney-based fintech coworking operator Stone & Chalk to launch a new hub that explores how finance technology can solve agriculture issues. It has been touted by the pair as highly important given 40 percent of the world's labour force is engaged in the agriculture industry.

Innovation Central Sydney (ICS), an innovation centre focused on agriculture, is another example of various parties coming together to support the industry. Through ICS, Cisco, Data61, and UNSW -- in partnership with the National Farmers' Federation, the NSW Farmers Association, the NSW Department of Primary Industries, and ATP Innovations -- are identifying and developing new uses for the Internet of Things within the agriculture sector.

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