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Historical document

Evaluation of automation and robotics innovations_ developing next generation vegetable production systems (VG13113)

Key research provider: Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
Publication date: 2016

This is a final research report from Hort Innovation’s historical archives. Please note that as these reports may date back as far as the 1990s, the content and recommendations within them may be superseded by more recent research.

What was it all about?

The project investigated developments in automation, robotics and sensing with vegetable growers by focusing on industry needs rather than the technology. It provided opportunities for discussing and considering which of these technologies might be of most value to their business in the future and included on farm work with grower collaborators to explore process flow/root cause analysis methodology (Lean case studies) and prototype testing (vertebrate pest management).

The target audience was innovative growers and their service providers in three main vegetable growing regions of Queensland: the Bowen/Burdekin, Bundaberg and Lockyer/Fassifern regions; as well as researchers, machine developers and other industry and government organisations.

Grower and industry engagement activities included start and end of project survey interviews, six grower forums and 15 farm visits by researchers in the three target growing regions during May 2015, three regional review meetings in autumn 2016 and a series of follow up farm visits by the project team.

Researchers from the CSIRO and the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) as well as the Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) at the University of Sydney and the Variable Rate Technology (VRT) team from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) contributed to these activities. Four editions of the ‘QLD Veg Automation Update’ were distributed to keep growers and industry informed of project progress.

Farm visits, grower forums and industry surveys created an abundance of ideas on the potential application of automation, robotics and sensing technologies in field and shed operations with some common themes emerging. This ‘wish list’ was further refined at regional review meetings and during end of project survey interviews.

The project evaluation showed that the number of vegetable growers, agronomists, consultants, regional engineering firms and other service providers actively engaged and were aware developments in automation, robotics and sensing had increased over the past two years and that project activities contributed to this outcome. Hort Innovation (which was then Horticulture Australia Limited) now had a better understanding of:

  • Grower and industry priorities for R&D in automation, robotics and sensing
  • The challenges, constraints and potential opportunities for commercialisation and adoption of these emerging technologies including return on investment (ROI) and payback considerations
  • The applicability of Lean concepts and tools for process flow/root cause analysis to increase productivity of horticultural businesses

There was evidence that the project had contributed to improvements in operations on several farms
(grading and defect sorting, machinery shed, staff management). The project work had identified mechanisms for building effective feedback loops between all sectors of industry. Webinars, newsletters, workshops, farm visits, prototype testing and grower surveys had all served to enhance industry awareness, communication and collaboration.

Grower targeted activities needed to be short, sharp, topical and focused on potential impact on farming operations. Personal relationships and follow up increased the effectiveness of these mechanisms. There was scope to better build on existing regional networks by collaborating to add value rather than competing with the locals.

The DAF/QUT/CSIRO collaboration VG15024 Vision systems, sensing and sensor networks to manage risks and increase productivity in vegetable production systems addressed several identified industry priorities but also aimed to continue the grower and industry engagement process in the regions.

Project activities had established and strengthened interactions and networks, identified expertise and research capacity for future regional collaborations between growers, industry and researchers. Farm visits by researchers were particularly valuable and were likely to lead to several future collaborative R&D proposals.

There was opportunity to build on the positive media image this technology was attracting for agriculture: an innovative industry with interesting opportunities for the professionals of the future. 


978 0 7341 3934 4

Funding statement:
This project was funded by Hort Innovation (then Horticulture Australia Limited) with co-investment from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) and funds from the Australian Government.

Copyright © Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited 2016. The Final Research Report (in part or as whole) cannot be reproduced, published, communicated or adapted without the prior written consent of Hort Innovation (except as may be permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth)).