International expert joins NCEA to explore future farms

USQ Research continues to attract the best and brightest from around the world to join the University to tackle national and global challenges in a variety of fields.

One such example is Professor Alex Thomasson, an internationally recognised expert in agricultural sensing and automation, focusing on optics and photonics for precision agriculture.

Professor Thomasson has spent the past few months with USQ’s National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture (NCEA) and will soon return to Texas A&M University in the USA.

He has researched engineering aspects of production and processing for multiple crops with principal focus on cotton, and his teaching has included transport phenomena, machine design, measurement and control, optoelectronic sensors, and precision agriculture.

Professor Thomasson said USQ was the perfect fit thanks to many research interest similarities.

“NCEA is probably the preeminent institution doing this kind of work in Australia,” Professor Thomasson said.

“I have certainly been impressed with what I’ve seen, particularly how closely allied they are with industry. That’s really where some of the most urgent work needs to be done.

“During my stay, I’ve been involved in the Future Farm program which relates to the automation of typical on-farm practices, particularly those having to do with precision agriculture or site-specific crop management.

“I expect we’re going to see more and more farm vehicles, tractors, harvesters, even sensing platforms that are automated.

“That’s an exciting avenue that I have every interest in pursuing when I go back home.”

After about 30 years of research in this area, Professor Thomasson said technology had advanced at a remarkable pace.

“The biggest changes have happened over the last few years. Consider the image quality we get with drones now – down to a few centimetres of resolution. For plants that may be half a metre across, we can get a lot of detail about the status of the plants,” he said.

Professor Thomasson recently presented a research seminar at USQ titled ‘Autonomous Air and Ground Sensing Systems for Agricultural Optimisation and Phenotyping’.

“Advances in autonomous systems, sensing capabilities, and big data have led agriculturists to seek real-time, high-quality, high-volume crop data to accelerate crop improvement through breeding and to optimise agronomic practices,” he said.

“Faster and higher-resolution crop data collection leads to greater capability for scientists and growers to improve precision-agriculture practices on increasingly larger farms such as site-specific application of water and nutrients.

“Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as an agricultural data collection system differ from traditional remote sensing in more ways than strictly higher-resolution images; they provide many new and unique possibilities, as well as new and unique challenges.”

NCEA develops solutions for a sustainable and profitable rural sector with research covering sustainable agriculture, energy use, water resources and food security. It is part of USQ’s Institute for Agriculture and the Environment (IAgE) which is focused on strengthening agricultural productivity and environmental management in Australia and overseas.

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Original article by University of Southern Queensland.

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