Focus on first hands-free crop

10 Feb, 2018 04:00 AM
Martin Abell, of United Kingdom-based farming services company Precision Decisions Ltd.
Martin Abell, of United Kingdom-based farming services company Precision Decisions Ltd.

WESTERN Australian grain growers and industry stakeholders will this month have a unique opportunity to hear about the world’s first crop grown exclusively using autonomous vehicles and drones.

Martin Abell, of United Kingdom-based farming services company Precision Decisions Ltd ,will outline how this has been achieved during a keynote address to the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Grains Research Update at Crown Perth on Monday, February 26 and Tuesday, February 27.

The ground-breaking ‘Hands Free Hectare Project (HFHa)’ will headline the Perth event’s ‘innovations’ session, which also features information from Australian grain growers about the practical application of research outcomes that make a difference to their profitability.

Mr Abell will also present to regional audiences at the GRDC Grains Research Update events to be held in Northampton on Friday, February 23, Darkan on Wednesday, February 28 and Corrigin on Thursday, March 1.

He said the HFHa project attracted global attention when its researchers successfully grew one hectare of spring barley in 2017 without humans entering the field.

“It has proven automated agriculture is possible and shown that there are no technological reasons why automated cereal farming should not take place commercially,” Mr Abell said.

Carried out by Harper Adams University in Shropshire with Precision Decisions Ltd, the HFHa researchers created the world’s first automated field growing cycle that incorporated sowing, agronomy practices and harvesting and produced a barley crop that yielded 4.5 tonnes per hectare.

The project team used modified conventional agricultural machines equipped with an open-source autopilot from a drone.

Mr Abell said such automated agriculture practices were in early stages of commercialisation in the UK, with major equipment manufactures and start-ups offering these types of systems to the market.

“One of the objectives of our one-year project was to utilise machinery and technologies that are available and affordable, not bespoke and expensive,” he said.

“In fact, it is legislation that remains the primary barrier to widespread adoption of automated machines within all technological sectors – including agriculture.”

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