With Australia's population projected to reach 38.8 million in 2060-61, agricultural productivity will need to increase to help sustain our growing population.
Over the next decade, 5G will play a critical role in smart farming and precision agriculture which promises to be the key to optimising resources and enhancing production. As the next generation of mobile technology, it has been designed to meet the ongoing growth in demand for data and connectivity from industries, like agriculture, offering mobility, stability and speed.
New smart farming technologies, like drones, autonomous agriculture vehicles, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and IoT devices, that leverage fast, high-capacity private and public 5G networks, will ultimately maximise operations. The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association has identified five ways 5G will change agriculture.
With more than 55 per cent of Australian land used for agriculture, drones operating on the 5G network could dramatically improve productivity, helping to carry out time and labour-intensive tasks on large farms and properties.
Whilst drones are already being used in agriculture, mobile operators, like Optus, are exploring how 5G could play a crucial role in enabling drones to fly beyond the visual line of sight and be fully autonomous.
Using 5G's high-speed and ultra-reliable connectivity, drones could automatically transmit HD videos and images, including thermal and topographical images, track and identify objects like livestock, weeds and pests using AI, and act on commands seamlessly controlled from kilometres away, enabling agribusinesses to better analyse field conditions, distribute seeds and sprays, and manage crops and livestock.
Autonomous farm equipment
Autonomous farm equipment is the next big thing in smart farming. Using 5G connectivity, farmers will be able to remotely operate a variety of driverless machinery, like tractors and harvesters, and even 'field robots' that could manage tasks like weeding. 5G will also enable autonomous agricultural equipment to communicate with each other in real-time. John Deere is looking to use 5G to make autonomous farm equipment smarter, revealing a concept autonomous electric tractor and 'See & Spray', an AI-powered weed sprayer, last year. Both machines use the cloud to operate, so they need an ultra-low latency 5G connection to be effective.
Real-time animal monitoring with precision livestock farming (PLF) technology will become more prevalent with 5G-enabled technology, such as animal tags, sensors and cameras. Through 5G connectivity, farmers can monitor animal eating and sleeping patterns, feed availability, indoor and outdoor environments, and general behaviour to identify if an animal is sick or even pregnant.
There are already 5G animal monitoring projects being trialled on farms. 5G RuralFirst in the UK uses collars and biometric ear tags on cows for better tracking and health monitoring over vast, remote areas.
Improving food management will be essential for increasing food supply. Using the 5G networks, food producers will be able to connect multiple IoT devices and sensors to track and monitor food along the supply chain, from processing to storage and delivery. This will improve traceability and storage conditions which will increase food safety, minimising the risk of contamination and food poisoning and reduce food waste. 5G will provide instant and reliable data and vision analysis. As part of the Australian 5G Innovation Initiative, the Australian Meat Processer Corporation is using 5G-enabled video technology to improve the quality assurance process of meat production, with the goal to reduce the cost of compliance and at the same time increase the effectiveness of compliance auditing for farmers in regional and rural Australia.
Farmers and their crops are often at the mercy of the weather, so having field condition data is becoming more important for precision farming. Using 5G-powered weather stations can help farmers optimise their labour, water usage and crop health, preventing damage and disease.
Weather conditions like rainfall, temperature, wind speed and direction, air pressure and humidity can be measured in real-time through 5G, providing more data-dense observations to help achieve better crop yields. Telstra is deploying 55 high-quality IoT-enabled weather stations around Toowoomba, Queensland, using existing mobile network sites to provide a hyper-local weather data and forecast system for farmers in the region. The project will test the viability of a weather network service to provide highly localised weather for farmers and could become more widely used across Australia.
There is great potential for smart farming and precision agriculture on the horizon with mobile network operators continuing to invest in the roll out of 5G. Australia is a large country, so it will take time for new 5G network infrastructure to become robust, but the future opportunities for agriculture are extremely exciting and promising.
- Louise Hyland, Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association CEO.