Grain Producers Australia has made a submission to the Australian Government’s process to develop a National Robotics Strategy, advocating for a clear pathway to adoption for autonomous farm machinery, to deliver vital farm efficiency gains and broader community benefits.
GPA’s submission highlights the proactive work that’s already underway in partnership years to introduce a Code of Practice for the use of agricultural machinery in Australia.
Led by expert consultant Dr Rohan Rainbow, the Code of Practice for Agricultural Mobile Field Machinery with Autonomous Functions in Australia is a joint project with GPA, the Tractor and Machinery Association of Australia (TMA) and Society of Precision Agriculture Australia (SPAA).
The Strategy’s discussion paper says in 2021, Australian robotics companies were estimated to be worth $18 billion in annual revenue, up from $12 billion in 2018. ‘Automation, in part enabled by robotics, was forecast in 2019 to add an additional $170 billion to $600 billion to Australia’s annual gross domestic product by 2030 given sufficient investment across the private and public sectors’.
However, the paper also says: ‘Australia is facing widespread and acute skill shortages’ and ‘Continued business innovation and investment in new technology, such as robotics and automation, can help lift productivity growth during a period of historically low unemployment’.
GPA RD&E Spokesperson, and Victorian grain producer, Andrew Weidemann, said GPA’s submission alerts the National Robotics Strategy to the fact this new technology will deliver much needed efficiency gains for grain producers, along with broader industry and community benefits.
GPA RD&E Spokesperson, and Victorian grain producer, Andrew Weidemann.
“Australia’s grains industry is already seeing reports of early movement in the autonomy space, with smaller autonomous machinery such as SwarmFarm that can spot spray weeds in paddocks during summer,” he said.
“Other growers will be watching intently, to see how this can translate into dollars and cents on their own farms; especially moving towards scaling up to the future use of bigger driverless machinery at seeding and harvesting.
“GPA recognised this technology’s impending arrival – that’s why we’ve worked with TMA and SPAA to get ahead of the game.”
GPA’s submission to the Strategy shows that a recently released report analysed the global market for Autonomous Farm Equipment and estimated its value at US$77.8 billion in the year 2020 (AUD$114b). This analysis also projected the market to reach US$199.8b (AUD$292b) by 2027.
“This increase is forecast to be driven by growing government and private sector investments in intelligent agriculture, as the future of sustainable farming and Australia’s initial share of this forecast expected to be significant,” Mr Weidemann said.
“GPA’s Code, working with TMA and SPAA, is designed to be proactive with preparing for a future that’s arriving much sooner than many realise, and ensure the practical implications of this technology, in particular safety, are properly considered by all stakeholders.”
TMA Executive Director, Gary Northover, said the Code presents a great opportunity for Australian producers to be pace setters in adopting autonomous machinery, while helping to enable tech-based employment in both the farming and manufacturing sectors.
“TMA supports this project because we can see the obvious benefits looming on the horizon and we know we need to prepare for it. The Code has also been supported by an independent technical review by University of Southern Queensland, so it clearly has expert backing,” Mr Northover said.
“The Code was purposefully designed to ensure it operates in parallel with the international ISO 18497 which is in final stages of development to accommodate global standards coming into play, to help guide the manufacturing of safe autonomous agricultural equipment.”
SPAA President, Phil Honey, said the Code development process that’s led by facilitator Dr Rainbow, has also been engaged with the international OECD Tractor Codes Robotics sub-working group, over the past three years, to seek global understanding of likely future regulation.
“This approach through the Code places Australian farmers, industry and government at the forefront of commercialising this technology, with a clear focus on managing safety outcomes, to meet community standards,” he said.
“As well as the Code, a four-year Stage 2 plan has also been developed which provides a base level framework for companies, as well as a government-endorsed program for induction, training and use of automation on-farm.
“The Code partners are currently implementing this phase of the project, to provide resources, training and support for broader-scale adoption across industry. We’ll continue progress this important project, as this technology will be here in full swing before we know it.”
The Code was finalised and presented to the WA Government in mid-2021. HERE
GPA Chief Executive, Colin Bettles, said the WA government was still considering GPA’s request to endorse the Code, as broader work to harmonise other codes continued.
“We remain hopeful the WA Government recognises the need to adopt this Code and the capacity for this technology to help solve problems many farmers in WA have faced over recent years, with significant challenges such as access to labour and farm safety,” he said.
“As we await the WA Government’s next move, GPA and our project partners have also agreed to approach other State Governments, which currently includes the Queensland government, to increase engagement and adoption of the Code.
“This is also critical, given the looming commercialisation of autonomous tractors, anticipated in late 2023 or early 2024.
“GPA will continue working collaboratively to achieve these outcomes, with our grower members – including WAFarmers, the WA Grains Group and AgForce Queensland who we’ve made joint approaches with to their respective state governments.
“We welcome any feedback and engagement to work in partnership with other stakeholders in the Australian grains industry, to support the best outcomes and benefits for growers.”
The Australian Government is developing a National Robotics Strategy to promote the responsible production and adoption of robotics and automation technologies.
Submissions closed on 7 May 2023. HERE