Friday 27 October 2017

Asian Australasian PA Conference: New challenges and New Tech

Hamilton hosted the International Tri-Conference in Precision Agriculture last week and the event was a huge success. Approximately 500 delegates from around the world descended on Hamilton for a very full on three days of discussion around networking in the Precision Ag field. The tri-conference had speakers in both precision livestock and arable fields.
Livestock data collection is a major part of management on the LIC farm. 
I had three key takeaways from some of the speakers. A lot of discussion was had around the implementation of the new technologies on farm. As the technologies mature it is becoming apparent that adoption of the technology is going to be a big hurdle that the industry will need to tackle.

Data and sensors. How do we tell right from wrong?
Jeff Bewley spoke on the implementation of sensors into the management of dairy cows. Just imagine cows covered in sensors. Monitoring cows is one thing, using the data is the other. Jeff described the benefits of monitoring cows which is readily apparent, heat detection, illness detection and behaviour analysis all allow for management of each animal. However as Jeff points out 3 different sensors that all claim to measure the same thing give three different results. The question of repeatability and accuracy is then called into question? Who is right and who is wrong?

Ethics will come into play
With the ability to monitor each individual animal comes an increased level of responsibility. Derek Bailey has been monitoring cattle in the rangelands of the USA and has found that knowing if an animal is unwell poses a bit of a conundrum. Knowing that an animal is sick is useful. Knowing where it is exactly is also useful. Answering the question of how to treat it when it is out on the ranges and whether the cost of treatment outweighs the benefits is a tougher decision. Easier to balance the maths with cattle, but in the case of old wethers the decision becomes decidedly more ethical than commercial.
Derek Bailey and one of their GPS cows.

Satellites to help measure many things.
Wide scale soil moisture measurement has the potential to facilitate highly accurate irrigation scheduling. Istvan Hadju from Massey University presented his findings into the use of satellite based radar to sense the soil moisture in the top of the soil profile. Istvan still has some work to do but utilising the AquaCheck probes he has been able to accurately map soil moisture in approximately the top 7cm of the profile. This work has some exciting implications, including being unaffected by clouds. Perfect for the land of the long white cloud!

Istvan giving his presentation.
Report by Nick