AARNet is a critical enabler for UNE SMART Farm technology testbed

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David Lamb UNE Smart Farm

There’s a lot of high-tech activity going on at the University of New England’s (UNE) Kirby SMART Farm near Armidale NSW these days but much of the action is invisible to the naked eye.

Talk to UNE Professor David Lamb and you’ll learn that Kirby is run by the University as a working property and used extensively for research and education.  The 2,900-hectare farm is a test-bed for new technologies and practices, bringing together researchers across many disciplines with the aim of improving productivity, environmental sustainability and support services for farming communities.

Kirby’s hi-tech Innovation Centre, which sits right in the middle of grazing pasture, is directly connected to AARNet’s high-speed optical fibre network. AARNet connects the Centre to the UNE campus and the AARNet national backbone over multiple 10 Gigabit per second links.  Elsewhere on the Farm access to the AARNet network is via telemetry sensor networks with additional access provided by wireless and satellite national broadband network links.

“Access to AARNet is a critical enabler for the increasingly data-intensive research carried out on the Farm, as well as for fostering the kinds of cross-institutional collaborations that drive innovation in agriculture,” said Prof. Lamb

Developing sustainable, manageable and accessible rural technologies

Research at Kirby is focused on developing sustainable, manageable and accessible rural technologies; hence the acronym SMART is used to describe the farm. The goal, says Lamb, is to develop a world-class whole farm ‘landscape laboratory’ national research facility that will also provide a platform for commercial enterprises to test relevant innovations.

With an unprecedented level of external and internal connectivity, the farm is being used to develop new technologies as well as explore and demonstrate the impact of broadband and digital services for the rural sector.

  • Two projects in partnership with the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information and Taggle Systems are evaluating systems for monitoring cattle behaviour from computers and mobile devices. One project is exploring the use of GPS collars and the other, ear tag tracking devices.
  • Other projects include testing new airborne sensor technologies to control fertiliser application from crop-dusting aircraft.
  • CSIRO and UNE scientists have created a live map of soil and environmental conditions from data gathered from one hundred local sensors and two local weather stations at the farm. Sensors monitor soil moisture, temperature, electrical conductivity and air temperature and the weather stations measure air temperature, humidity, and pressure, wind speed and direction, rainfall and hail, as well as solar radiation. For farmers, this kind of vital information can be used for decision-making, about when to fertilize, irrigate, sow seed or move cattle.

A growing number of university, vocational and high school students studying agriculture and related subjects already use live plant, animal and machine data streams from Kirby in the classroom. Lamb hopes to inspire a new generation of students to pursue careers in precision agriculture through exposure to the cutting edge technologies demonstrated on the farm…


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