Australian growers look to robotic equipment

New program established to aid vegetable growers

Hort Innovation A scene from last year’s AgTech Showcase held at the Gatton Smart Farm in Queensland, Australia. (Photo: Hort Innovation)

Vegetable growers in Australia are set to start trials of cutting-edge machinery under an AUS $4.1 million initiative that is expected to boost the adoption of advanced mechanization technology, reducing high input costs and labor challenges that affect grower profitability.

The program will be delivered by Hort Innovation and the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) in partnership with the Global Organization for Agricultural Robotics (GOFAR) which leads the International Forum of Agricultural Robotics (FIRA).

Focused on supporting Australia’s $16 billion horticulture industry by investing in research and development (R&D), marketing and trade for growers, Hort Innovation, also known as Horticulture Innovation Australia Ltd., was founded by the Australian government in 2014. The organization is grower-owned today.

Hort Innovation CEO Brett Fifield said employing the latest technology was essential in keeping the Australian horticulture sector competitive: “Hort Innovation plays a role in leading world-class innovation for the horticulture sector, to ensure Australian growers are able to remain globally competitive. This grower-focused program will bring global innovations directly into the hands of veggie growers, so that they can play an active role in trialling the technology and communicating its potential benefits.”

The program will share findings with growers across the country, with a packed schedule ahead of field days, showcase events, international study tours, webinars and more for growers to engage directly with the latest equipment and manufacturers.

DAF Director of Vegetables, Systems and Supply Chains Ian Layden said the goal of the program was to assist growers and the broader industry to adopt field technologies that would make a difference to input costs. “Through this program and the collaboration with GOFAR, we are keen to see more growers actively seeking automated and mechanized machinery solutions. The grower demonstration sites we establish will provide qualitative and quantitative data to highlight the potential efficiency benefits from mechanized machinery solutions, which we hope will help growers make bolder decisions about the technology they invest in.

“Support for growers to integrate new machinery into their field operations is critical, therefore growers and technology providers will be assisted by project partner Farm Concepts, who will play an important role in implementation.

“After the success of the Gatton Smart Farm AgTech Showcase in November 2023, we are already supporting Australian-first robotics trials in the Lockyer Valley and this new investment and partnership will continue the vital research and engagement we have with vegetable growers and the global technology community.”

GOFAR Co Director Gwendoline Legrand is convinced that robots are the new era of ag machinery, and that the Australian industry is primed to adopt the technology. “Through our global networks and knowledge of the technology sector in the U.S. and the EU, GOFAR will provide Australia access to a global network of mechanisation manufacturers and suppliers and machines for Australian growers to trial and optimize. We will connect growers directly to manufacturers, and other commercial growers who are actively adopting new technology.”

Michael Coote, chief executive officer for vegetable and potato industry trade group AUSVEG, said the vegetable industry had prioritized investment in advancing technology use within the sector. “The vegetable industry faces high input costs of energy, labour, chemicals and fertilizers which has a dramatic effect on grower profitability. We know that technology to address these challenges is out there, but the process of sourcing information, engaging in discussion with manufacturers, importing and trialling machinery is time consuming and costly, which can make it prohibitive to individual growers. This program will provide our industry with unparallelled access to engage with the latest available equipment together with the information they need to make informed business decisions.”

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