ON-FARM automation in one form or another has been around for years.
And farmers are known to be some of the most active and innovative users of new technologies as they emerge.
In recent years, the marrying of automation and computer technology has started to emerge and, according to scientists at Australia's first horticultural robotics learning and development hub, that marriage has the potential to transform the industry.
Officially opened last week at the University of Sydney, the Horticulture Innovation Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems will initially host a $10 million commitment to projects in robotics and autonomous technology that aim to increase farm efficiencies.
Those efficiencies will be gained through the use of robots of various forms that are equipped with all manner of sensors that are able to collect and relay real-time information to producers.
University of Sydney's Professor Salah Sukkarieh, director of research and innovation at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, said he was excited by the opening of the hub.
"From my perspective it is technology that will transform the industry for the better,” Professor Sukkarieh said.
"Because there are benefits such as greater efficiencies, which are important, there should be less waste, less use of chemicals, reducing variability and improving quality. There are so many changes that are potentially available that will improve on-farm production systems.”
Professor Sukkarieh said the centre would be working closely with farmers and that meant their work would always be relevant.
One of the projects currently being undertaken is the multi-scale monitoring tools for managing Australian tree crops.
This project integrates the latest imaging and robotics technologies to provide mango, avocado and macadamia farmers with decision-support tools to help improve production and profit.
The data collected through this project, and the tools it develops, will help farmers to predict fruit quality and yield, and to monitor tree health, including early detection of pests and disease outbreaks.
The University of Sydney is tasked with delivering a facet of this project, which involves utilising the equipment at the Horticulture Innovation Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems to assist with mapping and data collection.
Currently, the university is working on ways to improve mango counting and avocado pruning. Predicting fruit count will help producers plan marketing and packaging, and it will reduce business risk.
Field work at various Australian farm test sites has also been taking place.
Robots are also being equipped to detect weeds on farm and deliver targeted sprays to kill the weed once they do. The centre has a number of different robots it is working with and developing, including SwagBot, which is an omni-directional electric robotic ground vehicle.
It has successfully demonstrated the ability to operate in the rugged cattle station environment and has received worldwide attention.
Horticulture Innovation Australia chief executive John Lloyd said the new centre would help the horticulture industry minimise labour costs and prepare for the future.
"Never before have we seen this level of innovation in the industry,” Mr Lloyd said.
"Through working with the University of Sydney, we have been able to develop technology that can detect foreign matter, robots that can map tree-crop architecture, and ground-breaking autonomous weed identification and eradication capabilities,” he said.
If you would like to find out more about HICRIS go to confluence.acfr.usyd.edu.au
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.