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Digital agriculture takes centre stage

Digital agriculture will be a key focus at Digital Earth & Locate17. Image: ETH Zürich / Colourbox

Spatial innovation stands to empower many business verticals—construction, mining, resources, defence and intelligence—but there’s one that stands out as an opportunity that could significantly deliver wider community benefit. Digital agriculture is being driven by next generation GNSS systems, driverless tractors and the Internet of Things, enabling massive agriculture productivity growth and new business opportunities.

A new national positioning system accurate to between 2cm and 10cm – as opposed to 5 metres with today’s satellite-based GPS – will boost Australia’s economy by $73 billion or more over the next 20 years, much of it in agriculture, says Dr Peter Woodgate, CEO of the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI).

Advances in spatial technology that enable digital agriculture, including a next-generation national positioning system and NASA’s real-time monitoring of soil moisture levels from space, will take centre stage at the International Symposium on Digital Earth & Locate17 in Sydney next week, 3-6 April.

“To adopt techniques like precision agriculture and controlled traffic farming, farmers need to be able to position equipment and sensors with about 5cm accuracy,” said Woodgate. “The conference will showcase space-based augmentation systems – including Australia and New Zealand’s joint initiative – which, subject to testing, are well on the way to achieving that.”

“Leveraging other regional efforts, such as a Japanese satellite-based system recently trialled in Queensland, it will even be possible to remotely control unmanned autonomous vehicles like driverless tractors from space.”

Australia’s investments in positioning systems will not only pay off in higher agricultural exports but will create export business opportunities and new jobs in digital agriculture to aid the transition from sectors of the economy impacted by digital disruption.

Woodgate and fellow Working Group Co-Chair, Glenn Cockerton, Managing Director of Spatial Vision, will make the first public presentation of the 2026 Spatial Industry Transformation and Growth Agenda at Digital Earth & Locate17, outlining 30 transformative initiatives for Australia.

In another highlight of the event, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will hold a special session to promote capacity building and use of data from its Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) Observatory.

SMAP products, which provide frequent global measurements of soil moisture from space at high spatial resolution, are freely available, with one of the first validation experiments carried out in Yanco, NSW.

According to Phil Tickle, Program and Business Development Manager (Ag, NRM & Climate Change) at CRCSI, NASA’s SMAP data will complement data from a range of sensors used in digital agriculture, including soil moisture probes, weather stations, and animal tracking devices.

Tickle is presenting the benefits of an online farm monitoring solution for the grazing industry at Digital Earth & Locate17. Called the NRM Spatial Hub, this provides access to 30 years of 30 metre resolution satellite data and tools for mapping, assessing and monitoring property infrastructure, land resources and ground cover. It is currently being commercialised by the CRCSI in conjunction with Meat & Livestock Australia.

Tickle said the conference was an opportunity for farmers and land managers to learn about the spatial technologies transforming their industry, as well as to discuss potential issues, such as the ownership of agricultural big data.

“We are seeing enormous development in digital agriculture capabilities and often farmers don’t have control of their own data,” said Tickle. “When you have sensors on farms feeding into data warehouses and generating broader benefits, why shouldn’t the farmer get a cut? And what does a farmer do if they want to change providers and their data is locked up in a proprietary system?”

With a program featuring more than 130 international and Australian speakers, Digital Earth & Locate17 provides a unique opportunity to understand digital transformation practices from around the world, and to develop and leverage geospatial data.

The two main conference days will be split into eight separate streams with topics including smart cities, virtual globes, intelligent transport, agriculture, engineering/utilities, smart sensors for natural resource management, water & climate, disaster & emergency management, and the geospatial economy.

The joint conference will be held 03-06 April 2017 at the new International Conference Centre Sydney. The Digital Earth & Locate17 Conference’s Market Day on Tuesday 4th April opens the exhibition to everyone and is an opportunity for private, government and start-up organisations to

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