It’s an exciting time to be involved in the Australian agri sector. Technology is developing all around us and we are surrounded by innovative people doing incredible things to progress the industry.
At a recent industry panel hosted by CommBank, three industry experts discussed the future of agtech and explored the industry’s readiness to adopt such technology. One of the panellists was Professor David Lamb, Physicist at the University of New England (UNE), who leads UNE's SMART Farm project.
David said that our industry is absolutely ready to adopt the technology that is on the market, and a good way for individuals to begin the journey is to focus on the one issue that keeps them awake at night and begin researching and asking questions on how agtech can help solve this problem.
In his own work, David and his team are doing just this, utilising agtech to address some of the day-to-day challenges in the beekeeping industry.
“Beekeepers spend a large amount of time travelling from hive to hive, monitoring vital statistics to ensure colony health,” David says. “We saw an opportunity to improve hive monitoring using technology.”
David and his team created the ‘smart hive’, which uses monitoring equipment that allows beekeepers to remotely assess vital stats of colonies.
“The smart hives are all connected on a network and send data every 10 minutes on hive weight, humidity, temperature and accumulation of honey. Because the data is sent digitally, it can be analysed from anywhere and on any device. With over 500,000 hives across Australia and only around 10,000 beekeepers, the simple concept of remote monitoring can save hundreds of hours each week.”
Agtech adoption is not always smooth sailing. David and his team have faced a number of challenges, including creating the monitoring technology that could measure very small shifts.
“The weight of a hive tells a detailed daily story of the bees. Even a change as small as one gram can be significant, so engineering a system to measure such small deviations was a challenge,” he says.
The sensors also had to be able to withstand climate and environmental factors.
“They have to hold up in the harsh climates of Armidale, and they had to be designed to seamlessly integrate into the hives so that the bees wouldn’t immediately encase them in wax.”
Though it took a number of tries to get the design just right, he eventually developed a design that works by ‘camouflaging’ the sensors in a specially built frame within the hive.
Making mistakes is part of the process of innovation.
David believes that in order to continue to grow the industry, we must accept that mistakes will be made along the way, and be prepared to learn from them. “It’s about being brave and taking that first step towards implementing agtech.”
The current project involves retrofitting existing hives, but David is already thinking about what comes next, from bee counting sensors to a complete rethink of the commercial hive. He says continuing to ask questions of the industry will lead to the next innovation.
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