$1.5 billion is invested each year in agricultural and rural R&D in Australia. This has contributed towards a 2.8 per cent per annum productivity growth over the past three decades and led to the application of new technologies across the agribusiness sector.
Through a series of projects to be rolled out in coming months, the two organisations will develop data-driven solutions for more efficient and sustainable farming.
The partnership will draw on CSIRO’s expertise in data science research and engineering, and proven track record of agricultural innovation. Combined with Ruralco's on-ground network, the partnership offers potential to deliver new digital solutions to farmers throughout the country.
The joint areas of focus for CSIRO and Ruralco will include:
- Exploring the potential of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones in long-range livestock detection to improve muster effectiveness
- Nutrient and fertiliser management in areas of high conservation value, such as the Great Barrier Reef
- The development of long-range sensing to automate and streamline operations, including water management, livestock safety and security
- Adaptation of geospatial tools to provide an interface between Ruralco customers and their advisers, making use of real time data for improved decision making and planning.
Travis Dillon, CEO and Managing Director of Ruralco said he was delighted to be working with CSIRO to improve farm practices and better manage the environment.
"Drone technology is facilitating data-driven decision making in agriculture. Farmers can better analyse issues which affect productivity and sustainability such as: effective nutrient delivery; plant growth; and combat bio-security issues such as invasive species and pest infestation.
"Ruralco is well positioned to deliver innovative technology through our 600 national outlets," Mr Dillon said.
Ruralco is aligned with American company PrecisionHawk, their drone and data analytics innovation partner, which has led the development of accessible, farmer-friendly apps to analyse agricultural data in the US, South America and Europe.
Adrian Turner, CEO of CSIRO's data innovation group Data61, said that his team has deep, globally recognised capability in robotics, remote sensing and data analytics.
"This partnership is an example of us teaming up with Australian industry to help them capitalise on the next computing cycle, at the intersection of data and domains like agriculture."
"Our work in cyber physical systems, machine learning and analytics, software and computational systems and decision sciences will all play a role. Our technologies are capable of storing and distributing data efficiently and reliably over long distances. More importantly, we are helping to make remote sensing accurate, robust, secure and trusted.
"Ruralco will be a strong design and commercialisation partner with their large national footprint and customer base."
Agriculture in Australia a sector that has always embraced innovation is worth more than $50 billion and grew by $3.1 billion in 2015-16.
Digital Agriculture lead with CSIRO, Dave Henry said he was looking forward to working with Ruralco on furthering digital agriculture to support the continued growth of Australian agribusiness through becoming more productive, profitable and sustainable into the future.
"It's early days with the use of drones in agriculture and this partnership with Ruralco will allow us to explore and quantify those situations where the use of drones will aid farmer decision-making in livestock and cropping," said Dr Henry.
Ruralco Holdings Limited (ASX: RHL), is a leading Australian agribusiness. Ruralco operates through a national footprint of businesses that specialise in providing rural customers with products and services in merchandise, fertiliser, seed, wool, livestock, real estate, risk management, water, grain, finance and insurance. Ruralco's businesses around the country operate under their own brands. They have their own cultures, their own service models and their own unique value propositions — all designed to meet the demands of local or regional markets. The group’s businesses are committed to supporting the communities within which they operate.
As Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO has been pushing the boundaries of what is possible in innovation, science and technology for more than a century. CSIRO’s Data61 is Australia’s largest digital innovation group with capabilities in cybersecurity, confidential computing, IoT, robotics, machine learning and analytics, software and programming, and more. CSIRO Agriculture and Food is focused on technologies that will help Australian farmers and industry improve productivity and sustainability.