Robots revolutionise farming

Australia’s first SwarmFarm robot.
Camera IconAustralia’s first SwarmFarm robot. Credit: Countryman

In an exciting first for Australian agriculture, SwarmFarm Robotics Pty Ltd has announced it has partnered with Westpac Agribusiness to develop robotic technology for farmer use, revolutionising the future of farming across Australia.

The agricultural robotic company, based at Gindie near Emerald in central Queensland, is commercialising robot use in crop production, aiming to improve productivity, lower costs, increase production and reduce environmental impacts.

Farmers Andrew and Jocie Bate started developing the robots after hours spent in the tractor, which led them to question whether it was more effective to have smaller, slower, highly-precise equipment instead of increasingly large, fast equipment — in essence, a “smarter not bigger” solution.

The possibilities appealed to former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman.

Mr Newman, who has a background in agribusiness and engineering, is now the chairman of the SwarmFarm board.

He said the partnership with Westpac Agribusiness would allow SwarmFarm to achieve its goals of full commercialisation, putting the cost-reducing technology in reach of Australian farmers.

“Andrew and Jocie wanted a partnership at this time as it was considered premature to be enlisting venture-capital support. The strategic partnership between SwarmFarm and Westpac Agribusiness is a perfect fit, with both being front runners in innovation and agriculture,” he said.

Mr Newman said there was more to the partnership than funding.

“To support agriculture, an agribank must have a network of people on the ground who know and understand both the people and the business. Westpac Agribusiness are bankers, but they also have a very strong passion for, and technical knowledge about, farming,” he said.

“It’s so important that people in agribusiness finance have the ability to do some real linking, bringing new techniques and information to people, because they’re out, talking to customers.

“That obviously helps the viability of their agricultural customers.”

Agribusiness general manager Steve Hannan said digital innovation was driving rapid change in agriculture, with robotics and drones leading the charge.

SwarmFarms’ autonomous robots offer many benefits to farming in the future, including environmental guardianship and the reduced environmental impacts of agriculture.

“Andrew and Jocie have developed a solution that will revolutionise the future of farming across Australia, delivering savings in terms of labour costs, increased yields, more efficiently used inputs and greatly improved capital productivity,” Mr Hannan said.

“Westpac Agribusiness is committed to supporting innovation and technology to advance the way farmers do business, and I’m particularly excited to partner with a regional Australian company that’s leading this space.”

Mr Newman said while SwarmFarm was about transforming Australian agriculture through using swarms of small, light-weight, low-cost machines that performed a multitude of agricultural tasks, it was also really determined to export this technology to the world.

“We don’t want this to be snapped up by a large international company. Our aim is to pursue it in Australia, so the technology, the software, the know-how stays in Australia,” he said.

“We’re pretty big on that. We see the local and international linkages that Westpac Agribusiness has are important to achieving this.

“We’re delighted that a financial organisation like Westpac Agribusiness is supporting us, with its reputation, knowledge and understanding of innovation in sustainable agribusiness.”

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