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Tech-savvy students tackle innovations in agriculture

The agriculture industry was changed forever with the introduction of the tractor, using machinery to assist with the manual labour of farming.
CQUniversity recently did its bit to ensure that new innovations continue to redefine the agriculture sector, not just through agricultural research but by educating the next generation of innovators.

And CQUniversity research fellow in Horticultural Farming Systems Dr Chengyuan (Stephen) Xu, along with a team of colleagues, is doing just that.
Dr Xu and his colleagues have collaborated with local high schools, Bundaberg Christian College and St Luke’s Anglican School, to provide students with an opportunity to learn about cutting-edge technologies in the agriculture industry. The students have spent the last few months learning about the innovations and showcased their newly acquired learnings today (29 Oct).

Dr Xu explained that the project shared best-practice and new approaches to agriculture technologies.

“The agriculture industry is changing, and it will continue to evolve with the advancement of technological practices,” Dr Xu said.

“We are working to increase Bundaberg community engagement in scientific activities and participation in STEM subjects and this collaboration was a perfect way to do so.”

The project provided opportunities for hands-on exploration, including assembling a greenhouse cruising robot with sensors, as well as theoretical studies like a Masterclass of Maths Applications in Agriculture. The project also ran a few demos like drone aerial mapping, cropping field trial, and interactive data visualisation.

“The students identified how remote monitoring systems can be utilised by coding a Micro-bit kit (pocket-sized computer) to an automated watering system and calibration of smart home internet-of-things (IoT) sensors for agricultural environment measurements as core hands-on activities of this project.”

Bundaberg Christian College Head of Science Bob Hibbard and St Luke’s Anglican School Head of Learning and Innovation Matthew Hughes both agreed that the collaboration had greatly benefited their students.

“It is refreshing for students to find that the science they are learning in school has a real purpose,” Mr Hibbard said.

“It is also something quite achievable, anyone can test something if they do it in an unbiased way. Agriculture is an excellent context because it is so important for life in the 21st Century. This project has shown young people that they can take some measure of responsibility in improving the provision of food and fibre in the future, in a sustainable way.”

Bundaberg Christian College Head of Technologies Peter Sercombe said that often, teaching students about data involved very dry activities like conducting surveys on demographics or something that has little impact in the real world.

“The agricultural sensor project engaged students in the emerging industry of smart farming where they were able to experience first-hand how data can lead to improvements in profit, yield, and sustainability,” Mr Sercombe said.

GATEWAY Coordinator, Sustainable Solutions Teacher Amanda Kelk agreed that the opportunity has proved hugely beneficial to students.
“It was fantastic for students to hear first-hand from experts in the field about some of the sustainability problems faced in agriculture today,” Ms Kelk explained.

“Students had the opportunity to use sensor technologies and collect ongoing data. As a result, they engaged in an authentic experience which allowed them to consider the innovative ways technology could be used to help solve some of these problems for future generations.”

St Luke’s Anglican School’s Mr Hughes said his students had been excited to be part of the dynamic learning project

“We strive to provide a stimulating learning environment for our students, where they are engaged to be curious, creative and independent problem-solvers,” Mr Hughes said

“This project with CQUniversity has given our students real-world experience working alongside innovators who are solving real problems for agricultural business.”

Media Release: https://www.cqu.edu.au/cquninews/stories/research-category/2019/tech-savvy-students-tackle-innovations-in-agriculture