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About the Institute for Future Farming Systems

CQUniversity is a world-leader in agriculture science research, specialising in non-invasive and precision agriculture technologies.

Agriculture science research at the Institute for Future Farming Systems

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CQUniversity is a world leader in agriculture science research specialising in non-invasive and precision agriculture technologies. The university's agriculture research delivers solutions that are bolstering the productivity of the livestock and horticultural sectors. CQUniversity's Institute for Future Farming Systems is made up of a team of researchers, research higher degree students and support staff with expertise in the major agriculture science discipline field and a commitment to quality research that has an impact for industry. The Institute for Future Farming Systems' team works closely with industry partners with a particular emphasis on industries based in the subtropical and tropical regions of northern Australia.

"Drip line is ideally suited to optimising the fertigation so it makes sense for us to work with this. Netafim are very keen for this trial to succeed and we're delighted to be involved with our collaborative partners. So those systems are being tested here with the hope of growing more crop for farmers in a more profitable way." Research activities are focused in three broad themes including precision livestock management, precision horticulture and non-invasive sensor systems.

"We're really looking at digital technologies and how we can apply those to industry problems and I guess gather new information to help us better understand but also to better manage cattle in the cattle industry in northern Australia. So I guess the biggest problem that we're really focused on is fertility. Fertility is a major driver of profitability but it's one of those really challenging areas to I guess measure and monitor the performance of cattle. So we're looking at automated ways of recording the fertility performance of cattle in remote locations. There's sort of a big drive at the moment around walk over weighing so this is where you have a weigh platform in a remote location; when cattle come onto water they walk across that platform, we use the electronic identification system in their ears, we know their identification, we know their weight and we're actually able to start telling you something about their performance.”

The team is also using technology to improve the understanding of animal behaviours, all with the view to improving on-farm profitability and productivity. "The problem within the seed stock industry is that it's difficult within extensive areas of Northern Australia to capture information such as maternal parentage and calving date. Calving date, in particular, is a key parameter in determining how effective a cow is at having a calf every year or every couple of years, so her calving interval is captured between two calving dates and that is a big decider in whether she's going to throw bull calves that will then go out into the herd and be very productive as well. In terms of calf loss, the calf alert device, as I say is about determining the date and location of calving, so if researchers can get a better idea of what's happening in the first 48 hours, whether it's something to do with predation, poor mothering, distance to water, calf ill thrift or a congenital defect. So really it's a research tool to try and determine what's happening in that first 48 hours, that perinatal period. Well certainly if you're looking at the calf loss situation the typical scenario is that from confirmed pregnancy to weaning in Northern Australia we'll lose somewhere around 10 to 15% of calves and it's thought about 5% of those are lost in the perinatal period, so it's a big determinant of profitability and if we can determine more closely what's happening within that period, perhaps put in some managerial changes, they'll have a big effect on the northern beef industry."

"Most people now realise one of the most productive traits in northern Australia is fertility and we're seeing the data that we're collecting with CQUni and their walk-over-weighing really helps us collate very intensive measurements that give us an indication of the quickest re-breeders and more fertile cattle in the herd and any technology that can help get those accurate measurements to then validate and collate with the genomic information will be incredibly important."

CQUni's precision horticulture team works in partnership with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and is focused on improving the productivity and profitability of the state's major horticultural commodities by developing innovative future farming practices. "I work very closely with horticultural industries to try to find ways to improve their productivity and profitability. Internationally I'm looking at two projects that are trying to generate income opportunities for poor farmers in the Pacific and in the highlands of Papua New Guinea through some horticultural crop innovations. Within Australia, we work on a range of different problems from trying to control some pests and diseases in, for example, sweet potato crops to new technologies that might reduce input costs and improved productivity. Success in our research for industry would mean farmers being able to make more money from their activities, to improve the productivity of their cropping systems, and to do so in a sustainable way so that they and their children and their children's children will still be able to do the same production systems."

The non-invasive sensors research team is focused on the development of new hardware that can assess agricultural commodities and advance productivity without damaging the food products. "So we've had a range of postgraduates and postdocs involved from both the agronomic point of view, the electrical engineering point of view, the IT software side that melds together to make an operational unit to deliver a holistic product. Initially, we were prompted by growers to look at estimating the quality of fruit non-invasively, its internal quality being sugar content or dry matter content, and that took us down the path of measuring in-line so you're on a pack line, you're sorting on colour and weight. Now we are adding another facility that is estimating that the sugar content or dry matter content of that fruit. As you know as a consumer yourself you go into a retail store and you purchase fruit on the basis of what it looks like, take it home and you have an eating experience that's bad and the research says that you won't go back to buy that fruit for four to six weeks. So it's not an instant decision, but it's certainly important to repeat purchase. We were in the fields doing the dry matter measurements and we could see the grower practice of trying to estimate fruit yields, that is, how much crop was on the tree, so that they could be organised in terms of labour requirements, packhouse requirements and that was all being done manually with a hand counter. So that led us into a new line of work looking at machine vision in the field, so rather than just machine vision in the packhouse taking it into the field to estimate crop load across the field. The next step on from that of course, having seen the fruit, is to try to reach out to pick the fruit to automate the harvest."

The Institute for Future Farming Systems welcome opportunities to collaborate with researchers and research institutions who share their interests in agricultural research. CQUniversity has world-class laboratory and field facilities providing a welcoming and supportive environment for postgraduate students and visiting researchers. The horticulture team is already making a difference to industry delivering major products improving the chilli, tomato and sweet potato industries.

"Yeah, the focus of our research is focused on the important key crop disease in our region like currently, we have a project to work on root-knot nematode management in sweet potato. The problem I try to solve is to help the growers to reduce nematode populations and of course, reduce the damage to yield so they could maintain the productivity and income. As a scientist, we do encourage the growers to adopt more sustainable management strategies on the farm because it's good to maintain productivity, not in only a few years short term, but also in the long term.”

CQUniversity is proud to partner with government and industry stakeholders in the agriculture sector. To find out more about getting involved in our research, contact the University.