Global diversity at Hamilton gathering
PA17 in Hamilton in October was three conferences in one.
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. _____________________