Grain growers urged to "future proof" machinery investment

Author: | Date: 26 Oct 2011

James Hassall, Image courtesy Nuffield

Grain growers urged to “future proof” machinery investment

Grain growers are encouraged to “future proof” their farm machinery investment by factoring into their equipment purchasing decision-making the expected evolution of agricultural technology and the capabilities of currently available machinery.

The advice comes from central New South Wales primary producer and Nuffield Scholar James Hassall who has studied the future role of precision agriculture (PA) and the new technologies being developed to enhance PA.

Mr Hassall says the development of new PA electronic equipment has allowed growers to increase the efficiency of their operations and develop new farming practices, however, the technology can become superseded relatively quickly and does not tend to hold its capital value.

Speaking at recent Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) technical research Updates in the southern cropping region, Mr Hassall gave growers an insight into the future of agricultural technology and what it means for machinery currently in use.

The GRDC-supported Nuffield Scholar from Gilgandra said most current PA equipment was based around the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and that the United States and Russia were planning updates to their systems, while the European Union and China were planning to launch their own systems.

“This will significantly improve the accuracy and robustness of satellite navigation, but will require new receivers to be purchased. However, the timeframe of the upgrade is around 10 years so may not influence purchasing decisions in the short term,” Mr Hassall said.

He said there was a major push from farmers and equipment manufacturers for standardisation between different PA equipment and the associated data.

“This has led to the development of the ISOBUS 11783 standard which outlines both the hardware requirements in terms of plugs and wiring as well as the communication protocols so that equipment from different manufacturers can interact.

“Manufacturers are well down the path of meeting the standard, with a lot of commercially available equipment already compliant. However, the interaction between different manufacturers’ equipment is still somewhat limited and a lot of work is yet to be done to improve this,” Mr Hassall said.

In relation to boomspray technology, Mr Hassall said research was being conducted into further advancing application control across the boom, driven by increasing boom widths and wider travel speeds.

“A lot of this work is centred around controlling the application rate and spray pattern of individual nozzles.

“Another line of research is based around further advancing the concept of weed identification and automatic spot spraying. Systems are being developed that can identify and even differentiate plant species.”

Mr Hassall said this research was also closely tied to “micro spray” research whereby several different systems were being developed to target and control weeds on a finer scale or individual basis.

Advances in digital technology and sensor systems over the past decade have resulted in a great deal of research and development of more intelligent agricultural vehicles capable of automating tasks with minimal operator input, according to Mr Hassall.

“The ultimate aim is to remove the human operator altogether and have tasks completed autonomously. While most of the hardware and control systems are already a reality, issues of machine interaction with an essentially unpredictable environment still need to be addressed.

“It is generally accepted that autonomous operations will need to be conducted by a number of small machines which interact to complete a task rather than one large machine. This not only improves the safety aspects but also offers greater flexibility in terms of scalability.”


Caption: Central New South Wales primary producer and Nuffield Scholar James Hassall has studied the future role of precision agriculture (PA) and the new technologies being developed to enhance PA. Image courtesy Nuffield Australia.

• Media requiring further information can contact James Hassall on 02 6848 8214 or 0428 488214

• GRDC project code: NUF00009

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GRDC Project Code NUF00009