Agriculture is one of the largest industries in Australia, accounting for 12 percent of GDP and over $50 billion in exports every year. Agriculture is also our fastest growing industry, growing by a whopping 23 percent last financial year. However, current estimates indicate that there is still room for the industry to grow significantly with the adoption of precision agriculture.
Australia’s landscapes are vast and varied, comprising of a mix of terrain, land uses, drainage lines, and soil properties. Just as agricultural properties vary, so too must the management schemes under which they are operated. However, without effective methods for measuring and reacting to varying productivity, farmers have been forced to manage all properties as if they were uniform. Precision agriculture or ‘smart farming’ uses data analytics to inform decisions and tailor a site-specific management program taking into account the unique characteristics of each property.
Around the world, countless farmers are turning to the Internet of Things (IoT) to help optimise agricultural processes and prepare for the future. From irrigating blueberries in Chile to staving off crop disease in India, IoT is helping farmers make huge advancements in water management, fertigation, livestock safety and maturity monitoring, crop communication and aerial crop monitoring.
Vodafone is a world leader in IoT services, currently supplying products such as livestock monitoring, remote machinery, vehicle tracking, and remote diagnostics. These innovative IoT services are already available in many countries, including neighbouring New Zealand, where they are driving productivity gains on a number of properties. One such property is Blackhills Farm on the banks of the Rakaia River in New Zealand. Blackhills farm is a 400-hectare property with over 2000 cattle and 800 sheep. The property has implemented the SCADAfarm system, which is supported by the Vodafone network. With this system, property owners are able to remotely monitor water and energy consumption and location of irrigators. The system also takes into account soil moisture measurements and real-time weather information. Farmers are able to view this information and control their irrigation systems through a tablet or smartphone.
Last year, agricultural giant John Deere purchased the artificial-intelligence start up Blue River. The company is now working to integrate AI, robotics and machine learning into its agricultural equipment, allowing for connected vehicles to respond based on information they receive from sensors. For example, autonomous harvesters communicating with each other in real time to harvest the same field.
Australia’s IoT future will largely be enabled by the implementation of 5G technologies which will provide farmers with real time data on everything from water and power usage, livestock movements, maintenance alerts, market prices, and control a wide range of machinery from all over their property. This will assist regional businesses to compete on a level playing field both domestically and internationally, driving investment and encouraging further technology adoption. It will also have a huge impact on increasing productivity in regional Australia, and enable primary producers to meet the demands of a growing Australian population.
With the Australian population set to rise to 25 million people by 2025, and the demand for food set to increase significantly, it is essential that primary producers are given every opportunity to increase their productivity. Just as primary producers are essential to the life of every Australian, so too is spectrum to mobile networks.
Step one in the plan towards our 5G future is ensuring that enough spectrum is available so that the 5G rollout is not stalled at the starting line.
This article is the second in our series exploring the future of 5G in Australia. To read the first article, focusing on 5G applications for rural healthcare, click here.
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