Capturing the Prize: the A$200 billion opportunity for Australia's food and agribusiness sector/ Enhanced Production and Value Addition / Precision agriculture and big data
Using innovative digital, IT and farming equipment and technology and leveraging datasets to mitigate risk, improve farm productivity, farm safety and unlock access to capital/new income streams.
SwarmFarm Robotics is leading the development of agricultural robots for crop production. This has been termed the next big technological “quantum leap” for global agriculture.
Its robots are not simply driverless tractors that automate existing field operations. They are lightweight, efficient, and sensor-guided autonomous machines, loaded with technology that allows new farming methods simply not possible on the back of a tractor. Its Crop Protection robot, for example, provides precision application of protection products, significantly improving efficiencies. Through individual weed treatment, the robot massively reduces the amount of herbicide used on farms, improving the sustainability and environmental impact of agriculture. It also has Mowing and Slashing robots.
Capable of operating at optimal speed and whenever the conditions are suitable for the specific operation, SwarmBots can work independently or co-operatively as a ‘swarm’ of units across the landscape. They are also simple enough for farmers to fix themselves, unlike a lot of farm machinery.
It has undergone rapid expansion since its founding in 2012, bringing highly skilled jobs to Emerald in rural Queensland. It is now delivering commercial machines to early adopter farmers in Australia – one of few companies worldwide to have real robots already working on farms.
It has taken ten years of invention, development, and streamlining of the farm robots to take the business from a back-porch pipe dream to commercial reality.
Along the way, the business has been assisted by the Greater Whitsunday Alliance, through research cooperation with several universities, industry partnerships with companies such as Bosch, Elders, and Telstra, and grants from Australian and Queensland Governments.
Multiple prototypes have been created and tested. In just three years SwarmFarm Robotics developed 11 prototypes, using them in their field contracting service to spray weeds for grain and cotton farmers. They also developed a turf mower attachment to fit a SwarmBot platform. The final SwarmBot is a universal platform that can operate in various industries. It has an open developer ecosystem, so that other companies and developers can release apps and additional hardware for use onboard the robots to solve farm-specific problems.
SwarmFarm Robotics has delivered 27 commercial machines over the past three years, that have collectively amassed over 40,000 hours of commercial operations, managed some 676,000 acres, and saved around 520 tonnes of Glyphotate (Roundup) herbicide from the environment.
From its new assembly factory and office, SwarmFarm chose a leasing business model. Robots are leased out at $86,000 a year. After three years, the robot is replaced at no extra cost to the farmer, due to the rapid advancement of technology.
As global demand for safe and sustainable agricultural products rises as populations grow, the future is bright for the SwarmBot. It makes agriculture more efficient, enables better crops, is better for the environment, and helps farmers be more profitable.
This agritech innovation is not just about serving Australia. Farmers in developing nations have been left behind in agricultural advancement as they have smaller farms and less money – now with good connectivity they can catch up and leapfrog ahead.
This case study is from FIAL's 2022 edition of Celebrating Australian Food and Agribusiness Innovations 2022