The Partnership Solution: Simplifying the Complex
About The University of New England (UNE) and the Applied Agricultural Remote Sensing Centre (AARSC)
Formed in 1938, the UNE pioneered teaching external students by correspondence, making UNE Australia’s most experienced provider of distance, and now, online education. UNE’s Applied Agricultural Remote Sensing Centre (AARSC) specialises in research and development utilising remote sensing technologies to transform agricultural production systems and deliver measurable benefits to growers. AARSC collaborates extensively with researchers, industry, agricultural agencies, government and growers to bring technology capabilities together to meet industry priorities.
The UNE AARSC teams with industry, government, farmers and researchers to unlock the value of IoT-enabled insights for agriculture
We needed a robust, high-performance IoT solution that could save farmers the time needed to grab a shovel and drive long distances to manually check soil and tree conditions. IoT satellite connectivity offers some potential but was not yet commercially ready. The cost of cellular sensors, each with its own SIM card, rapidly became prohibitive considering the number of sensors we needed to deploy. A low-power, low-bandwidth, long-distance network solution was the only option that would meet our needs.
Dr James Brinkhoff
Senior Research Fellow with the UNE AARSC team
In 2014, UNE partnered with industry bodies, government, researchers and farmers to launch a national research project focused on identifying optimal technologies (including remote sensing and IoT) to measure tree health and productivity in mango, banana, avocado and macadamia orchards, and to map all commercial orchards across Australia. The success of this collaborative project led to a second phase, beginning in 2019, that added citrus and olive orchards. One focus area is to improve water use efficiencies, motivated by recent drought.
The journey to meet real-world farming IoT challenges
Based on previous experience, the UNE team anticipated some tough realities working with remote IoT-enabled sensor technologies in an agricultural environment. Sensors had to withstand harsh weather and damage by animals. Orchards are typically located in remote locations, which demand easily extended network coverage. Information from the sensors needed to be available remotely, as manual downloads and performing regular maintenance was not practical.
A fit-for-purpose solution for Agriculture
The UNE team chose Thinxtra, The IoT Telco, to architect a fit-for-purpose, end-to-end, low-cost solution that is fast and easy to install and maintain. Thinxtra’s proven expertise with mass IoT deployments and broad partner ecosystem gave UNE the opportunity to build an easily accessible, cost-effective, reliable, IoT solution to give information to growers in a useful format.
AARSC worked with Thinxtra to evaluate multiple sensors and nodes from different 0G solution providers, including Sensohive, Digital Matter and AxisTech. The researchers were also able to easily integrate sensors from other sources such as Edaphic and Enviropro. Typically, different solutions come with dedicated data platforms, so UNE created an end-to-end solution able to compile data from different sensors and map it to a central database for storage and online visualisation.
So far, research indicates IoT-enabled remote monitoring will deliver promising benefits for growers. We expect growers will have at least hourly access to specific data on tree health factors and irrigation to drive better decisions on farms. There is clear potential to save growers money and time because remote monitoring reduces the demands of manual crop management. We’re working closely with farmers to assure IoT solutions deliver the right insights to improve tree crop yield and productivity and are operationally viable for day-to-day work on remote farms.
Professor Andrew Robson
Director of AARSC at The UNE
Outcomes and next steps
The UNE research project into IoT technology for remote monitoring to better understand tree health, yield, productivity and irrigation will run for two full seasons before the outcomes are conclusive but the early results are encouraging for the AARSC team, including:
- Quick access to usable data to support improved decision-making around tree health and irrigation management.
- The ability to simply and quickly deploy 0G LPWAN networks in remote locations where coverage is unavailable.
- Labour cost and time savings due to a reduced need to manually measure tree and soil conditions across expansive farms.
- Information derived from sensor measurements across farms updated hourly online.
- Insights that will drive improved productivity and profitability.
Including the UNE AARSC team, ten partner organisations joined the research project, funded by Horticulture Innovation Australia and the Australian Federal Government’s Rural Research and Development for Profit scheme.
- New South Wales Department of Primary Industries,
- Central Queensland University,
- Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Resources,
- Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries,
- Citrus Australia,
- Australian Mango Industry Association,
- Australian Olive Association,
- Australian Macadamia Society,
- Tie-Up farming,
- Ceres Imaging.
About UNE AARSC
The Applied Agricultural Remote Sensing Centre (AARSC) is based at the University of New England, one of Australia’s oldest and leading agricultural research organisations. UNE has a well-demonstrated and respected reputation for delivering strong applied remote sensing research outcomes to industry. With both strong agronomic and remote sensing research backgrounds, the team is effective in generating effective technical outcomes, and can interpret results agronomically, ensuring relevance and farm adoption. Currently, the team leads or collaborates in remote sensing projects across a dozen agricultural and horticultural industries. The team also has a proven record in developing multi-industry and multidisciplinary strategies in response to specific industry needs.
Visit the AARSC website for more information.