CSIRO builds smart farm with sensor networks

CSIRO is working towards the 'Smart Farm' of the future with research focusing on Wireless Sensor Networks (WSNs)and their potential to transform the Australian agriculture industry.

Project leader of the CSIRO's ICT centre, Dr Tim Wark said as water and labour get scarcer and more costly, the viability and sustainability of Australia's agricultural industry hinges on better utilization of resources.

"A key factor in this process is the availability of timely, accurate information and know-how that can revolutionize how daily management decisions are made," Wark said.

WSNs are a rapidly growing area of research and provide access to environmental information in greater detail than ever before possible. A WSN comprises a group of "nodes" each measuring a variable, for example soil moisture, which wirelessly interact with its neighbours creating an ad hoc network which passes information to a central database.

By covering a farm with these nodes, Wark said farmers can always have an accurate picture of soil moisture levels to determine the most effective irrigation needs for a field.

"We are also investigating the potential of WSNs for monitoring and understanding cattle behaviour," he said.

"The nodes are worn by cattle with the information retrieved being used to help develop methods for classifying and modelling herd behaviour under different environmental conditions.

"By combining this with additional information gained from sensor networks, a wealth of knowledge can be gained on the effect of environmental and herd factors on animals' development over their lifetime."

Researchers are also investigating ways of combining information from WSNs with the National Livestock Identification System (NLIS). As part of the NLIS, all cattle are required to wear RFID tags which enables tracing their locations and interactions throughout their whole lifetime.

Dave Swain, autonomous livestock systems group leader at CSIRO Livestock Industries, said WSNs provide the opportunity to autonomously monitor and manage livestock production systems in real time.

"For the first time we will be able to simultaneously deliver triple, bottom-line (environmental, economic and social) benefits by allowing land managers to develop and deliver precision management options in a more labour efficient way" Swain said.

The research is a partnership involving CSIRO ICT Centre and CSIRO Livestock Industries based at the JM Rendel Research Laboratory near Rockhampton. w

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