Grain production heads back to the future with robots and drones (GRDC Updates)

Author: Sarah Jeffrey | Date: 01 Aug 2014

Image of Andrew Bate, Emerald district grain grower and founder of SwarmFarm Robotics

The future of grain production - including the use of robotic technology and drones will captivate growers and advisers at the upcoming Northern Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Grains Research Updates.

The Research Updates will be held in Warra at the Memorial Hall on Tuesday 26 August followed by Condamine on Wednesday 27 August at the Sports Club.

At the Warra Update, Andrew Bate, founder of SwarmFarm Robotics, and grain grower near Emerald will speak on ‘robots in the paddock and drones in the air’ and look at what the future holds for grain production.

Mr Bate has been driving the development of robotic technology along with partner Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and the Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) and will provide growers and advisers with an insight into robotics in grain production, including what’s ready now and where development is heading.

“What we’re looking at is technology that will flip modern farming practices on their head.

“For years we thought that by going bigger - using bigger machinery in our paddocks - we were being more efficient. But really, each time we went bigger we went backwards, particularly regarding soil compaction,” Mr Bate said.

He said the fleet of small autonomous vehicles (robots) he was involved in developing for spraying, among other things, had the potential to spark as big a shift in agriculture as horse to tractor.

“We are looking at swarms of small, lightweight machines that work together in a cooperative team. So instead of one large tractor you might have six small ones about the size of a ride on lawn mower.

“Small means little or no soil compaction, so farmers can reclaim their paddocks.

“We are facing a huge challenge to not only increase food production but do it in a way that is both sustainable and sees environmental impacts reduced.  Robotics will be the way of the future.”

Nutrition is also a big theme throughout the Updates, particularly late season management in cereals and improving productivity through better nutritional decision making.

Richard Daniel, Northern Grower Alliance chief executive officer, will speak at the Warra and Condamine Updates on the profitability of the different methods, timings and formulations for applying nitrogen in wheat for yield and protein gain.

He will also provide information on timing and products and tips for optimising the return on dollars spent - something of interest to every grower.

Mike Bell of the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) will also address both Updates on the economics of deep P placement over time, specifically the deep application of large amounts of phosphorus and the effects on yield over a four to five year period for wheat, chickpea and sorghum. He will focus on the central and western Darling Downs areas.

Maximising chickpea yield will also be a hot topic for Queensland growers. Information on row spacing and population trials with new varieties, yield optimisation and amount of N fixed and a comparison with fababeans will be made. Relevant geographical field results from trials in Queensland will also be presented.

Update coordinator John Cameron, ICAN Rural, said the Updates had something for everyone and were well worth a day out of the paddock.      

“The Updates at both Warra and Condamine provide growers and advisers with a raft of information from experts across a number of fields,” Mr Cameron said.                         

“At the Warra update, Gordon Cumming from Pulse Australia will talk all things mungbean, including new varieties and fitting mungbeans into rotation to maximise returns.

“At Condamine, Jeremy Whish, CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences will present on soil water and risk management for summer cropping, answering the question of how much soil water at sowing affects yield and profit outcomes in different types of seasons?

“Also at Condamine will be soil scientist and farming systems researcher Ram Dalal, who will be addressing the topic of ‘Soil structural decline - organic matter, infiltration rates, fertility and land use.

“Herbicide management in the fallow and looking at glyphosate resistant grasses and the short term solution afforded by Group A herbicides will also be covered by Michael Widderick, DAFF Qld and Mark Congreve from ICAN,” Mr Cameron said.

For more information, agendas or registration forms visit or or call John Cameron or Erica McKay on 02 9482 4930.


Caption: Andrew Bate, founder of SwarmFarm Robotics and Emerald district grain grower, believes robotic technology will flip modern farming practices on their head.

Contact Details 

For Interviews

John Cameron, ICAN Rural
02 9482 4930


Sarah Jeffrey, Senior Consultant Cox Inall Communications
0418 152859

Region North