Western Australia’s first demonstration SMART Farm opens at Muresk Institute
In an unprecedented showcase, Western Australia’s Muresk Institute has recently unveiled the state’s first public demonstration SMART farm on 13 June.
According to a press release by the Western Australia state government, the SMART farm integrates digital equipment into conventional agricultural infrastructure and utilises cloud-based technologies to help inform farmers and improve efficiency and decision-making.
By integrating digital equipment such as environmental sensors and GPS into modern agriculture, the SMART farm will be able to provide farmers with data on a deeper and wider scale. Access to better data is expected to boost agricultural productivity, environmental sustainability, safety and workflow, all of which make a farm more self-sufficient.
"As a local farmer, I understand the importance of new technology and the efficiencies and opportunities it presents to our industry,” said Agricultural Region Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) Darren West, who represented Australian Education and Training Minister Sue Ellery at the inaugural FarmSmart Showcase on 13 June.
"Not only is technology changing the way we do things, it is also opening up new opportunities for jobs. Muresk is leading the way in teaching and adopting the latest innovations in technology and systems to allow us to keep pace with the rest of the world."
Known as Muresk Agricultural College until 1985, Muresk Institute is a specialised agricultural training facility that seeks to provide access to latest innovations in agricultural technology, processes and equipment; It places an emphasis on industry-driven education, and focuses on scientific research and professional development in Western Australia’s agricultural sector. The launch of the public demonstration of the SMART farm not only underscores Muresk Institute’s commitment to driving innovation in the agricultural sector, but also affirms the institute’s excellence in agricultural research and development.
Muresk Institute’s SMART farm comes in light of similar smart farming projects across Australia; in March 2015, The University of New England in the Australian state of New South Wales had established a SMART Farm Innovation Centre at one of its Armidale commercial farms; the Sustainable Manageable Accessible Rural Technologies (SMART) Farm included technologies such as sensor networks, immersive communications technologies and autonomous agricultural systems, all of which were capable of generating real-time data on a 24/7 basis.
Besides smart farming projects, Western Australia’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development also recently conducted a Digital Farm Grants Program to boost digital connectivity of farming businesses. The program was budgeted at 5 million AUD, and evaluated applicants based on network coverage, network sustainability and price competitiveness.
In addition to appraising the merits of cloud-based smart farming, Agricultural Region Member of the Legislative Council (MLC) Darren West also added, “We need to up-skill and keep ahead of the game in farming technology, especially with the competition from the Black Sea”. According to commodity reports by Rabobank, the high prices of Australian agricultural produce like Australian Premium White wheat have led to a significant loss of market share in Southeast Asia as key importers turn to cheaper substitutes from Black Sea agricultural exporters such as Russia and Ukraine.
In June 2012, Australia’s market share of the Southeast Asia wheat market was nearly 60 percent; as of 2017, this share had slid sharply to below 40 percent. According to the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre, grain production in Russia and Ukraine averaged 121 AUD and 133 AUD per ton respectively; in Australia, that figure stands at a staggering 216 AUD per ton.
As a significant source of employment and state income, Western Australia’s agricultural sector needs to find new ways to improve price competitiveness while maintaining high quality. Muresk Institute’s SMART farms will provide a testbed for improving farm productivity and efficiency, ensuring that Western Australian farms keep a technological edge above the competition.