4 April, 2017

Mission to MARS for Australian vegetable industry

The Australian vegetable industry is on a mission to MARS, with robotics and automation emerging as key pillars of the production process, according to a new study evaluating innovations in vegetable production.

The study, funded by Horticulture Innovation Australia with co-investment from and conducted by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF), took an industry-first approach to evaluate developments in mechanisation, automation, robotics and sensing (or MARS) based on growers’ needs and the potential applications of new technologies.

QDAF extensively engaged growers at the regional level regarding prospects for integrating new technology in their businesses.

“Through this study, we found the vegetable industry has never had a stronger appetite for mechanisation, automation, robotics, and remote sensing on-farm,” Horticulture Innovation Australia chief executive John Lloyd said.

“Cost pressures, labour issues and the need to find efficiencies are driving these changes, with better water efficiency, reducing environmental impacts, more flexible management and market and product diversification also playing a role.

“The project also found wide technology adoption among growers with innovations like GPS guidance and colour vision graders already being used by many growers. Across horticulture, growers are also hugely positive about the benefits that innovations in automation, robotics and sensing could bring.”

Levy-funded research is looking to help usher in the next phase of Australian vegetable production, with the research and development national vegetable levy funding a range of projects relating to robotics and automation – including practical on-farm applications.

“There are tremendous opportunities for vegetable growers to improve their productivity and profitability by utilising current and future R&D,” said AUSVEG CEO James Whiteside. “It also offers the best, most sustainable solution to the industry’s biggest challenge of finding a suitably sized and skilled labour force to pick and pack a range of different crops and products.”

“The programs which are developing the Ladybird and RIPPA, two intelligent farm robots for the vegetable industry developed at the University of Sydney’s Horticulture Innovation Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems, are great examples of how growers are investing in the industry’s future to ensure Australia is at the front of the pack when it comes to on-farm automation.

“These practical applications of R&D are supported by a range of industry research, from investigations of autonomous systems that can guide on-farm decision-making to QDAF-led research into vision systems, sensing and sensor networks to manage risks and increase productivity in vegetable production systems.”

AUSVEG is the leading horticultural body representing Australia’s vegetable and potato growers. The RIPPA will be on display during the trade show at Hort Connections 2017, to be held at the Adelaide Convention Centre from 15-17 May.

Evaluation of automation and robotics innovations (VG13113) was funded by Horticulture Innovation Australia with co-investment from the Queensland Government through the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and funds from the Australian Government.

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