AUSTRALIA'S fastest growing agricultural sector will benefit from a $9 million investment in technology and infrastructure.
The Gatton Smart Farm will be built in Queensland's Lockyer Valley, which contributes $450 million to the horticultural sector each year.
Over the past five years, the horticultural industry has experienced a 27 per cent increase in value to reach $15.1 billion. Modelling shows this figure could double by 2030.
Speaking at the sod turning on November 24, Hort Innovation head of extension Jane Wightman said the Gatton Smart Farm would be industry relevant and deliver impact for growers.
Close to five years ago Hort Innovation, rural research and development corporations and research partners commissioned the report, Accelerating precision agriculture to decision agriculture.
According to the report, many producers found it difficult to navigate the digital agriculture marketplace and were concerned about making poor agtech decisions.
The level of awareness and adoption of agtech was also found to be low, a problem the Gatton facility will help address.
"The thinking at the time was the transition from manual business and production models to digital was creating challenges and also opportunities across all industry sectors, domestically and internationally," Ms Wightman said.
"The clear message from that work was that producers were struggling to know where to start, or where to invest, to take advantage of the benefits of digital agriculture.
"The Gatton Smart Farm aims to help growers de-risk agtech by enabling them to select and experience the latest technologies firsthand and understand the costs and benefits of adoption."
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Ms Wightman said agtech could play a role in improving some of the industry's biggest challenges, including labour, crop nutrition, weed and pest control.
"The Gatton Smart Farm stands to benefit growers at a local level, no matter where they are in Australia, with all research outcomes to be shared nationally through this project," she said.
The facility is being funded by the Queensland government and Hort Innovation.
It will include a climate-controlled, multi-bay glasshouse; a retractable roof, protected cropping facility; and a post-harvest facility.
Ian Layden is the vegetables, systems and supply chains RD&E director within the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, which is leading the project.
Mr Layden said the climate-controlled glasshouse would allow work around pathology, virus management, entomology, and screening of different cultivars under different climatic conditions to take place.
The protected cropping facility would be used to look at what crops can be grown year-round as well as serving as a demonstration site for growers.
The final piece of the system is the post-harvest facility.
Mr Layden said this facility would be used to conduct tests on different packaging techniques, controlled atmosphere storage within cold rooms and assessing shelf-life.
Queensland agriculture minister Mark Furner said the Gatton Research Facility was being transformed into a world-leading smart farming facility to drive the adoption of agtech in the horticultural sector.
He said the government wanted to create an environment to foster collaboration and problem solving.
"We're sowing the seeds for our future in agriculture through the innovation of smart farming and this is something that will be instrumental, not only in Queensland but right across this nation," Mr Furner said.
"This initiative will support producers to optimise protected cropping, take advantage of the range of technologies and drive sustainable economic prosperity in the future."
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