Innovative approach to broadacre farming's big issues

GRDC and CRDC supporting projects to create hydrogen and reduce spray drift

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LX Design House has received funding through a Business Research and Innovation Initiative to develop Maverick, a real-time spray application feedback system.

LX Design House has received funding through a Business Research and Innovation Initiative to develop Maverick, a real-time spray application feedback system.

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Close to $5 million has been facilitated by two of Australia's rural research and development corporations to combat challenges facing the grains and cotton sectors.

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Close to $5 million has been facilitated by two of Australia's rural research and development corporations to combat challenges facing the grains and cotton sectors.

Long-term the aim is to convert crops into renewable hydrogen and, in turn, ammonia and to reduce spray drift.

The GRDC and CRDC are each overseeing two Business Research and Innovation Initiatives, in partnership with the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.

These initiatives have been developed to drive agricultural innovation and the four successful applicants will receive $1m each to develop a proof of concept.

This comes off the back of stage one of the initiative, where 10 companies shared in $987,009 of funding to create feasibility studies.

GRDC business development and commercialisation manager - west Roop Judge said the two projects they were supporting are different but complementary.

Wildfire Energy is developing a commercial process to convert crop residues into hydrogen and HydGene Renewables is engineering bacteria to convert sugars from biowaste into hydrogen.

For GRDC, the endgame is farmers having access to ammonia at a lower cost and located closer to their region.

"The project is creating hydrogen and then hydrogen being converted into ammonia," Ms Judge said.

"Ammonia is one of the key imports in the farming system for fertiliser use and also one of the key input costs."

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Traditionally, ammonia is made using the Haber-Bosch process, which Ms Judge said was very energy intensive.

If successful, the new technology could create ammonia with lower energy inputs and reduce the industry's carbon footprint.

Ms Judge said GRDC had chosen Wildfire Energy and HydGene Renewables as the two companies had very well developed technologies that were novel, patented and had intellectual property protection.

"They have excellent management teams, a great track record and we felt that the combination of the two companies with quite differing approaches, we thought that would be very complementary as well."

For the cotton industry, spray drift has been an issue for a long time and "no-one has cracked it in any meaningful way yet".

That's according to CRDC research and development general manager Allan Williams, who said spray drift was complex to manage for a range of reasons.

Mr Williams said they hope to reduce the complexity of spraying and create a feedback loop so adjustments can be made in real-time.

The funding will support SwarmFarm Roboticsto develop a system enabling robots to make decisions on pesticide applications autonomously.

While LX Design House will develop a user-friendly, globally scalable and real-time spray application feedback system using a range of innovative technologies, including artificial intelligence.

CRDC senior R&D manager Susan Maas said it was a highly competitive project and all six feasibility projects had been really strong.

"These two projects are really different but the strengths were similar - they are both offering end-to-end solutions with strong understanding of the challenges associated with spray application, especially from the perspective of the grower/sprayer operator," Ms Maas said.

"Spray drift is a huge cost to all of agriculture, in terms of damage to non-target areas, wastage of pesticide and reduced efficacy as well as a risk to social license.

"Spray application is really complex - applicators are expected to be weather, chemistry, machinery experts.

"This investment is going to provide technology to take the complexity out of spray application and provide really clear support for spray applicators on how to get the most out of their spray activities."

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