Skip to main content
Ongoing project

Digital remote monitoring to improve horticulture’s environmental performance (ST19024)

Key research provider: Various

What is it all about?

In October 2019, Hort Innovation secured a $2.9 million grant through Landcare’s Smart Farming Partnerships program, supported by the Australian Government. Through project ST19024, and together with some levy contributions, the funding is allowing us to work with partners to raise the horticulture sector’s environmental performance.

The project involves collaborators including Hort Innovation, Applied Horticultural Research, Freshcare, Hitachi Consulting, Landcare and industry bodies Greenlife Industry Australia, AUSVEG, the Australian Banana Growers’ Council, the Australian Macadamia Society and Growcom.

With a focus on protecting ecosystems in horticulture growing regions, it’s establishing four demonstration ‘smart farms’ in the Great Barrier Reef catchment area. Here, remote technology will be used in the continuous monitoring of environmental indicators such as nutrient leaching, sediment run-off, water and energy use efficiency and more.

The demonstration sites will be used to help growers understand digital environmental monitoring and its use in business decision making and good environmental stewardship.


Watch videos from each of the SmartFarms:

All pilot farms are operational, with routine equipment and leaching trial maintenance ongoing. Data collection from the irrigation management trial at the banana pilot farm has continued, with insights being shared with the project team. A second groundcover trial has been established at the vegetable pilot farm. This trial will facilitate ongoing collection of nitrate runoff and leaching data from a new chili crop. Data collection from both management trials is continuing.

The digital dashboard (Hitachi Vantara Control Tower) is fully operational. The Applied Horticultural Research team has facilitated the integration of the growing degree day and HowLeaky models into the Control Tower. The ongoing development of these models will allow growers to predict and manage plant maturity and nutrient loss more effectively. To demonstrate the versatility of the system, the project team has tested the integration of sensors from various manufacturers into the Control Tower.

The project team has completed case studies for each industry. A series of interviews with the pilot farm owners have been conducted. The purpose of these interviews is to provide growers with a platform to share their thoughts on the project and offer insight into how they utilize the Control Tower. A series of webinars and factsheets, focusing on key smart farming technologies has been planned, with the first webinar ‘Soil and Growing Media Moisture Monitoring’ delivered on the 20th of April 2023. Two in-person workshops have been delivered in partnership with Greenlife Industry Australia.

Future events are being planned with project partners, including attendance at the 2023 Australian Banana Industry Congress and a webinar series covering key ‘smart farming’ technologies such as dendrometers and nitrate monitoring. A workshop titled: ‘Getting Hands-on with Sensors: A Practical Workshop for Growers’ is being planned for Hort Connections 2023. This workshop will provide an overview of the digital remote monitoring project and introduce the pilot smart vegetable, avocado, banana farms, and smart production nursery.

This project update relates to the Applied Horticultural Research component of this program.

An irrigation management trial has been established at the banana pilot farm. This trial will compare nitrate runoff and leaching under drip and sprinkler irrigation. The trial was designed through consultation with project staff from the Australian Banana Growers Council, the Department of Environment and Science and the Bartle Frere management team.

A groundcover trial has been established at the vegetable pilot farm. This trial will compare nitrate runoff and leaching in chilli rows managed with and without interrow groundcover. The trial was designed through consultation with Growcom and the Austchilli management team. Two soil moisture probes and a remote camera have been repositioned so that the trial site can be remotely monitored.

Progress has been made on the free chlorine sensor at the Golden Grove smart production nursery. The sensor is now fully installed and integrated into the Hitachi Control Tower. Data collection is underway on water and labour efficiencies gains of smart farming technologies and the Hitachi Control Tower.  

A comprehensive digital how to guide has been developed with input from Hitachi and Greenlife Industry Australia. This how to guide outlines some of the most useful and readily available sensors which are appropriate for smart farming. The how to guide features clear instructions on how to select, install, and maintain sensors, and how to interpret measured data. Links to further reading and instructional videos are available throughout the document. The how to guide will be shared with project partners, NRM groups, and the Hort Innovation extension network.

Applied Horticultural Research and the project partners have delivered a significant number of online and in-person events since the last milestone update. These include a virtual field day at the Austchilli pilot farm, an in-person workshop in partnership with Greenlife Industry Australia and presentations at multiple conferences. Future events are being planned with project partners, including attendance at the 2023 Australian Banana Industry Congress in Cairns and the 2023 Mareeba Field Day. Interviews with each of the pilot farm owners are being planned for late November 2022.

Related levy funds

This project is a strategic levy investment in the Hort Innovation Nursery Fund