Australia gets its first fully automated commercial farm

14-06 | Updated on 22-07 | |
Photo: CSU
Photo: CSU

The hands-free Global Digital Farm is an initiative of the Charles Sturt University and Food Agility. The aim is to demonstrate the future of farming through robotics and artificial intelligence.

The new hands-free farm will be established at Charles Sturt’s AgriPark on the University’s campus in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. The Global Digital Farm will develop robotics, artificial intelligence and other technologies and knowledge to be disseminated to farmers and primary producers.

The project will be located on the AgriPark’s 1900-hectare farm, which is operated as a commercial enterprise and incorporates a range of broad acre crops (wheat, canola, barley), as well as a vineyard, cattle and sheep.

New sustainability and carbon models

Charles Sturt and Food Agility will partner to build the hands-free farm and strive to create new sustainability and carbon models to drive improvements in farming practice. The farm and the requisite data, telecommunication and other digital infrastructure are to be developed and built over the next three years.

Text continues underneath image

From left to right: Food Agility Chief Scientist Professor David Lamb, Food Agility CEO Mr Richard Norton, Charles Sturt University Interim Vice-Chancellor Professor John Germov and Charles Sturt University Chief Operating Officer Mr Rick Willmott. - Photo: CSU
From left to right: Food Agility Chief Scientist Professor David Lamb, Food Agility CEO Mr Richard Norton, Charles Sturt University Interim Vice-Chancellor Professor John Germov and Charles Sturt University Chief Operating Officer Mr Rick Willmott. - Photo: CSU

Commercial operation

According to Niall Blair, Charles Sturt University Professor of Food Sustainability, the Global Digital Farm will be a commercial operation, educational facility and community outreach facility rolled into one. “This ambitious project will arm Australia’s primary industries workforce with knowledge and technology in crucial fields like data analytics, geospatial mapping, remote sensing, machine learning and cybersecurity”, he expects.

The Global Digital Farm will utilise Charles Sturt University’s research and development capability in agriculture. “To ensure the next generation of Australia’s farmers are at the forefront of innovation”, Professor Blair says.

Full automation is not a distant concept

CEO Richard Norton of Food Agility says the reality of hands-free farming is closer than many realise. “Full automation is not a distant concept. There are already mines in the Pilbara operated entirely through automation”, he emphasises. “It won’t be too many years before technology will take farmers out of the field and immerse them in the world of robotics, automation and artificial intelligence.”

Text continues underneath image

Charles Sturt's AgriPark on the University's campus has a 1900 hectare farm. - Photo: CSU
Charles Sturt's AgriPark on the University's campus has a 1900 hectare farm. - Photo: CSU

Other hands-free farms

In 2019 the Hands Free Hectare (HFHa), a project run by Harper Adams University and Precision Decisions, a Map of Ag company, received funding to create a Hands Free Farm in the UK. The U.S. has its 80 Acres Farms, the world’s first fully automated vertical farm, in Ohio.

And last year Wageningen University and Research Centre launched the Farm of the Future. The farm reflects current practice as much as possible but, instead of monoculture it will work with strip cropping, a robot, drones, and precision farming technologies, with minimal addition of artificial fertiliser and crop protection products.

Groeneveld
René Groeneveld Correspondent for Australia