Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Big Farmer Is Watching Moo

The development of a rugged and affordable computer network of NBN-ready sensor technologies could be a boon for cattle farming, which returns about $5.7 billion a year to the Australian economy and accounts for about 5% of all jobs in the north.

James Cook University’s Digital Homestead project, led by Prof Ian Atkinson, has fitted solar-powered behaviour and tracking collars to cattle and installed walk-over weigh stations to monitor their condition. Satellite monitoring enables farmers to keep an eye on pasture performance and grazing capacity, and sensors collect data on weather and water levels in dams. A digital dashboard enables farmers to access all the data from their PCs, providing real-time statistics on cattle and the property at a glance.

Atkinson said the parts of the system were relatively simple, but once they were integrated and connected they made a great difference. “Farmers don’t want shiny gadgets. It’s simple, on-farm analytics that can make a significant difference to profits,” he said.

“We’re currently focused on integration and translation of research. There is some great stuff coming, and the industry needs to get ready to take best advantage of it,” he said. “Extras such as bore monitoring, farm security and even open gate alarms are, or soon will be, available and the priority now is to get the system into the hands of farmers and business as the true NBN roll-out reaches more rural areas within the next year.”

The research team has carried out trials at CSIRO’s Landsdown Research Station near Townsville, and has commenced a commercial-stage trial near Charters Towers.