Global di­ver­sity at Hamil­ton gath­er­ing

PA17 in Hamil­ton in Oc­to­ber was three con­fer­ences in one.

NZ Grower - - LANDWISE -

The 7th Asian-Aus­tralasian Con­fer­ence of Pre­ci­sion Agri­cul­ture and the 1st Asian-Aus­tralasian Con­fer­ence on Pre­ci­sion Pas­ture and Live­stock Farm­ing both have strong em­pha­sis on re­search. The Dig­i­tal Farmer and Grower con­fer­ence was aimed at prac­ti­tion­ers with farm­ers and con­sul­tants pre­sent­ing and form­ing dis­cus­sion pan­els. All ran in par­al­lel with some joint ses­sions and del­e­gates could jump from one to the other.

Many of the 500 del­e­gates were in­ter­na­tional, many were younger and many were women; quite dif­fer­ent to al­most ev­ery other pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture event I have at­tended. Also no­table was the breadth of sec­tors rep­re­sented. Pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture has been strongly rooted in broad­acre crop­ping, now we are see­ing strong in­ter­est in an­i­mal man­age­ment and for per­ma­nent crops such as pipfruit and viti­cul­ture. There was much dis­cus­sion of sensing and map­ping in­clud­ing sev­eral Massey Univer­sity speak­ers pre­sent­ing hy­per­spec­tral sensing, Ali­son McCarthy from the Univer­sity of South­ern Queens­land talk­ing about ma­chine vi­sion for hor­ti­cul­tural crop mon­i­tor­ing re­search, Hong Sun from China Agri­cul­tural Univer­sity pre­sent­ing work test­ing a minia­ture spec­trom­e­ter for potato crop mon­i­tor­ing and me talk­ing about our own work map­ping onion crops to un­der­stand vari­abil­ity.

There is a huge role for au­to­ma­tion in agri­cul­ture and mas­sive in­vest­ment in farm ro­bot­ics. Si­mon Black­more of Harper Adams Univer­sity showed UK re­search re­sults in­clud­ing a one hectare ce­real crop with all op­er­a­tions con­ducted solely by ro­bots. No per­son en­tered the area from the start of ground prepa­ra­tion to the end of har­vest.

Tay­lor Welsh and col­leagues from Plant and Food Re­search and the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia have de­vel­oped a way to au­to­mate in­sect trap check­ing. They mea­sure the wing­beat of an in­sect as it en­ters a mon­i­tor­ing (pheromone) trap and are build­ing a li­brary of data for rel­e­vant in­sects for the Asia Pa­cific re­gion. The tech­nol­ogy will hope­fully re­duce the need to man­u­ally check the thou­sands of traps used for biose­cu­rity.

PA17 also high­lighted huge in­vest­ment in Ja­pan, In­dia, Korea and China, places to which we don’t of­ten pay much at­ten­tion. Naoshi Kondo of Ky­oto Univer­sity de­vel­oped sev­eral fruit har­vest­ing ro­bots with ma­chine vi­sion sys­tems, and now works on au­to­ma­tion and sensing in agri­cul­ture, live­stock and aqua­cul­ture. Mao­hua Wang from the China Agri­cul­tural Univer­sity spoke of the di­ver­sity and ad­vance­ments in pre­ci­sion hor­ti­cul­ture in Asia.

De­spite com­par­a­tively low bud­gets, New Zealand is per­form­ing well. The Dig­i­tal Farmer and Grower Per­ma­nent Crops ses­sion in­cluded Steve Saun­ders pre­sent­ing Ro­bot­ics Plus work, in­clud­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions with Auck­land and Waikato uni­ver­si­ties. This is world class R&D. The plat­forms be­ing de­vel­oped for ki­wifruit will cross rel­a­tively eas­ily in or­chard­ing and viti­cul­ture. Panel­list Craig Horn­blow noted the dif­fi­cul­ties found cov­er­ing the 900 hours of labour re­quired per hectare in pipfruit pro­duc­tion. If ro­bots can cover some, it frees up the rest for jobs more dif­fi­cult to au­to­mate.

Digi­ti­sa­tion is en­abling and driv­ing fun­da­men­tal changes in the way we can cap­ture, process and make de­ci­sion from data. Sjaark Wolfert from Wa­ge­nen­gin Univer­sity is lead­ing a very large Euro­pean project around big data ap­pli­ca­tions be­ing im­ple­mented to im­prove farm and sup­ply/value chain per­for­mance in agri-food net­works. He noted many com­pa­nies are re­frain­ing from shar­ing data be­cause of fear of gover­nance is­sues such as data in­se­cu­rity, or lack of pri­vacy or li­a­bil­ity. Oth­ers talked about frus­tra­tions try­ing to com­bine data sets that use dif­fer­ent names, units and col­lec­tion stan­dards.

The ques­tion, “Who owns the data?” was also dis­cussed in the Dig­i­tal Farmer and Grower ses­sions. A first po­si­tion is of­ten “the farmer/owner of the ob­ject about which data is col­lected owns the data”. But of­ten the farmer/owner of the ob­ject ac­tu­ally wants to know how they/their ob­ject is per­form­ing rel­a­tive to oth­ers in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion. This needs ag­gre­ga­tion into huge data sets on which so­phis­ti­cated an­a­lyt­ics are per­formed and bench­mark­ing can be done. Who owns the ag­gre­gated data and the in­sights that come from it?

PA17 was pre­sented by the Pre­ci­sion Agri­cul­ture As­so­ci­a­tion of New Zealand and chaired by Ar­min Werner from Lin­coln Agritech. I won­der who is in­ter­ested in a trip to In­dia for the 8th ACPA in two years’ time.

▶ Pro­fes­sor Mao­hua Wang from the China Agri­cul­tural Univer­sity – pic­tured with a very young del­e­gate – spoke of the di­ver­sity and ad­vance­ments in pre­ci­sion hor­ti­cul­ture in Asia. _____________________

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