Institute for Future Farming Systems

Northern Australia's Agricultural Innovator

CQUniversity’s agricultural research program is a world-leader in delivering practical solutions which are bolstering the productivity, profitability and sustainability of the livestock and horticulture sectors.

In particular, it is internationally recognised for its specialist skills in the development of non-invasive, precision management tools, with its research in this area independently assessed as above world class (ERA ratings of 4 and 5 in the last two assessments).

In mid 2015, CQUniversity established its flagship Institute for Future Farming Systems (IFFS) to drive the delivery of new agricultural innovations, and provide an environment for practical, skills-based training and research-led teaching delivered by industry experts.

Importantly, its research is grounded in industry needs – the Institute’s researchers live and work in the communities they serve, with staff working closely with industry partners and primary producers in Bundaberg (Australia’s largest vegetable producing region) and Rockhampton (Australia’s beef capital).

Among its many successes have been the development of the widely adopted hand-held NIRS (near infrared spectrometry) gun, which assesses the ripeness of fruit, bolstering crop productivity through optimised harvest timing and improved fruit quality.

And in the livestock sector, the research team has developed automated data gathering tools to monitor the condition of individual animals and assist graziers make more informed production and marketing decisions.

The Institute utilises world-class facilities including the laboratories at the Central Queensland Innovation Research Precinct (CQIRP) and the 3200-hectare Belmont Research Station.

The Institute for Future Farming Systems aspires to use its Central Queensland base and the collective skills of its staff to become the major contributor to successful agricultural industry development in northern Australia and for CQUniversity to become Australia’s top agriculture university.

Find out more about our facilities and equipment and staff.

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Video Transcipt

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 meld 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 a 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, pack house 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 pack house 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 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.

Expertise

The CQUniversity Institute for Future Farming Systems is headed by Director Philip Brown, who works with a team of 25 research staff as well as collaborating with numerous CQUniversity scientists from across a range of related disciplines.

The research activities of the IFFS are focussed in three broad themes:

Professor Philip BrownPrecision Horticulture - Cluster Leader Professor Philip Brown

The Precision Horticulture team works in partnership with the Queensland Department of Agriculture & Fisheries, and is focussed on improving the productivity and profitability of Queensland’s major horticultural commodities. It seeks to undertake research that will deliver innovative future farming practices and has the potential to make a substantial impact on the state economy. It is currently delivering major projects improving the sweet potato, chilli and tomato industries.

Professor Kerry WalshNon-Invasive Sensor Technology – Cluster Leader Professor Kerry Walsh

This cluster is focussed on the development of new sensor hardware and applications of existing sensors that can assess agricultural commodities and advance productivity without damaging the product.

In partnership with international technology companies and the Australian horticultural supply chain, the team is delivering new tools to accurately assess the ripeness of mango crops prior to harvest and retail.

Professor Dave SwainPrecision Livestock Management – Cluster Leader Professor Dave Swain

The PLM team is recognised as a national leader in the field of tropical livestock research. Its area of speciality is the use of cutting edge technology to automatically gather precise phenotypic data such as animal liveweight, pregnancy status and parentage, as well as improve the understanding of animal behaviours, all with a view to improving on-farm profitability and productivity. It is the key research provider for the Central Queensland Livestock Centre of Excellence, a collaboration between CQUniversity, QDAF, AgForce, and Qld Agricultural Training Colleges (QATC).

Partners and external relationships

We are a multidisciplinary team of researchers with active research collaborations with researchers in Australia and around the world. We work in partnership with Government and industry organisations, including key partners:

Projects

Current Projects

Our research projects currently include:

DataMusterTM

CQUniversity’s Precision Livestock Management (PLM) program, led by Professor Dave Swain in Rockhampton, forms part of CQUniversity’s Institute for Future Farming Systems. The PLM team is rolling out a groundbreaking new individual animal monitoring technology onto grazing properties across Central and North Queensland. Known as ‘DataMusterTM’, the technology integrates on-farm walk-over-weighing systems, low-band width data transmission technology, and sophisticated analysis systems to deliver real time information about individual animals and infrastructure direct to a mobile app.

Website: www.datamuster.net.au

Calf Alert

Research into widespread calf loss in cattle herds across northern Australia is being accelerated, thanks to a new tool which alerts researchers when a calf is born and provides location details.

GPS Tech Unlocks Fresh Fields for Stock Monitoring

It’s a world-first trial of global positioning technology in the graziers field, and CQUniversity’s Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS) research project aims to make locating livestock a centimetre-perfect process. Announced in late 2017, the $14 million research is coordinated by Geoscience Australia and the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information, and funded by the Australian and New Zealand governments. Across several stages, researchers aim to improve the accuracy of GPS-tracking for livestock, from about five metres currently, down to less than 50 centimetres. It’s a project that complements a range of research initiatives at CQUniversity’s Institute for Future Farming Systems, and all of them aim to deliver big benefits for local graziers – and primary producers globally.

New Research Untangling the Nematode Knot

Following the removal of chemical nematicide products from the market in recent years due to concerns about toxicity impacting on human and environmental health, the agricultural industry, and in particular the sweet potato industry, has become increasingly threatened by the invasion of the root-knot nematode (RKN). The research is trialling new control methods of the highly damaging root-knot nematode in sweet potato and ginger crops by surveying the presence of different plant-parasitic nematode species in sweet potato growing areas and assessing the effectiveness of alternative management practices including the use of fungal applications.

Unleashing Gut Biota for Better Health and More Productive Poultry

The secrets to unlocking some of life’s greatest challenges can be hidden in the most unusual places, and that includes the gut inhabitants of humans and animals. Through her work investigating microbiota, CQUniversity researcher Dr Dana Stanley has revealed new insights into a raft of human health problems, from obesity to prostate cancer, as well as ways to boost poultry production.

Contact Details

Institute for Future Farming Systems

School of Medical and Applied Sciences
Bruce Highway, North Rockhampton QLD 4702

Mrs Caroline Jowsey
Phone: +61 (0) 7 4150 7056
Email: c.jowsey@cqu.edu.au

Prof Phil Brown (Institute Director)
Phone: +61 (0) 7 4150 7145
Email: p.h.brown@cqu.edu.au

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