Ruralco spreads wings in drone space with MLA and CSIRO partnerships

Beef Central, 02/08/2017

Ruralco has moved to establish a dominant position in the rural drone and technology market by announcing two significant new strategic partnerships this week.

Ruralco today announced it has formed a new innovation partnership with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) to jointly refine new approaches to monitoring and maintaining pasture and herds through aerial drones.

It follows a similar announcement earlier this week with by Ruralco and CSIRO.

Under that arrangement, both organisations will explore the potential for drones in long-range livestock detection to improve muster effectiveness, adapting geo-spatial tools and developing long-range sensing to automate and streamline water management, livestock safety and security and other livestock operations. (More on this partnership below)

Under the partnership with MLA, both partners will engage directly with producers to develop an aerial drone strategy for the benefit of the red meat and livestock industry.

The project will also map the current use of aerial drones and identify the future development needs around how aerial drones can be used more effectively on-farm.

The collaboration will focus on developing Australian-specific insights and unique algorithms for livestock producers with Ruralco’s partner PrecisionHawk, the leading drone, data collection and analytics company in the United States.

Initially running for 12 months, the project will engage with producers and rural communities through a series of hands-on demonstrations showing the current capabilities of aerial drone technologies.

MLA General Manager – Research, Development & Innovation, Sean Starling, said the new partnership with Ruralco is the first step in developing a broader land and aerial drone strategy across the red meat industry, as part of MLA’s Digital Value Chain Strategy for the red meat and livestock industry.

Mr Starling said direct feedback from producers will also assist in identifying commercial opportunities for aerial drones and pin-pointing technology gaps that currently exist.

“As an industry it’s important we embrace technology to ensure we get the best from the land and integrate the best surveillance techniques of our flocks and herds,” Mr Starling said.

“By engaging producers directly with hands-on demonstrations and using a ‘design led’ approach to the development of new technology we are hoping we can ensure quicker and more effective adoption of technology that assists the whole industry.”

Ruralco CEO and Managing Director, Travis Dillon, said drone technology was facilitating data-driven decision making in agriculture.

“Farmers can better analyse issues which affect productivity and sustainability such as effective nutrient delivery, livestock health, and combat biosecurity issues,” Mr Dillon said.

“Together, Ruralco and MLA are well positioned to deliver innovative technology through Ruralco’s national outlets. With PrecisionHawk we will be able to access the latest farmer-friendly apps used to analyse agricultural data as used in the USA, South America and Europe.

“Agriculture in Australia is a sector that has always embraced innovation, and is worth more than $50 billion and grew by $3.1 billion in 2015-16.”

Ruralco and CSIRO partnership

Drones, long-range sensors and geospatial tools will be applied to Australian agriculture through the partnership between Ruralco and CSIRO.

The partnership announced yesterday aimed to see the latest digital technology applied on farms through a series of projects to be rolled out in coming months to develop data-driven solutions for more efficient and sustainable farming.

The partnership will draw on CSIRO’s expertise in data science research and engineering, and proven track record of agricultural innovation. Combined with Ruralco’s on-ground network, the partnership offers potential to deliver new digital solutions to farmers throughout the country.

Ruralco and the CSIRO are making matching investments in each digital technology project and the total cost for the individual projects has not been finalised. The partners believe there is an opportunity to create an innovation ecosystem, bringing together industry and supplier partners who share interests to jointly fund and extend the scope of projects.

The projects will each have a unique time frame depending on scope, but all projects are expected to be completed within 12 months. Each project stream will have different objectives and success will be measured on an individual project basis.

It is estimated that $1.5 billion is invested each year in agricultural and rural research and development in Australia. This has contributed to a 2.8 percent per annum productivity growth over the past three decades and led to the application of new technologies across the agribusiness sector.

The joint areas of focus for CSIRO and Ruralco will include:

  • Exploring the potential of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones in long-range livestock detection to improve muster effectiveness
  • Nutrient and fertiliser management in areas of high conservation value, such as the Great Barrier Reef
  • The development of long-range sensing to automate and streamline operations, including water management, livestock safety and security
  • Adaptation of geospatial tools to provide an interface between Ruralco customers and their advisers, making use of real time data for improved decision making and planning.

Ruralco chief executive officer and managing director Travis Dillon said he was delighted to be working with CSIRO to improve farm practices and better manage the environment.

“Drone technology is facilitating data-driven decision making in agriculture.

“Farmers can better analyse issues which affect productivity and sustainability such as: effective nutrient delivery; plant growth; and combat bio-security issues such as invasive species and pest infestation,” he said.

“Ruralco is well-positioned to deliver innovative technology through our 600 national outlets.”

Ruralco said it is aligned with American company PrecisionHawk, their drone and data analytics innovation partner, which has led to the development of accessible, farmer-friendly apps to analyse agricultural data in the US, South America and Europe.

Chief executive officer of CSIRO’s data innovation group Data61 Adrian Turner said his team has deep, globally-recognised capability in robotics, remote sensing and data analytics.

“This partnership is an example of us teaming up with Australian industry to help them capitalise on the next computing cycle, at the intersection of data and domains like agriculture.”

“Our work in cyber physical systems, machine learning and analytics, software and computational systems and decision sciences will all play a role. Our technologies are capable of storing and distributing data efficiently and reliably over long distances,” he said.

“More importantly, we are helping to make remote sensing accurate, robust, secure and trusted.

“Ruralco will be a strong design and commercialisation partner with their large national footprint and customer base.”

Digital Agriculture lead with CSIRO, Dave Henry said he was looking forward to working with Ruralco on furthering digital agriculture to support the continued growth of Australian agribusiness through becoming more productive, profitable and sustainable into the future.

“It’s early days with the use of drones in agriculture and this partnership with Ruralco will allow us to explore and quantify those situations where the use of drones will aid farmer decision-making in livestock and cropping,” said Dr Henry.

Sources: Ruralco, Meat & Livestock Australia, CSIRO


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