What is the CLIMATE SMART PILOTS project?

The Climate Smart Pilots project will trial digital technologies that improve the information generated on natural resources and climatic variability.

The $6.7 million project will establish practical trials with NSW farmers to understand how digital technology-use, through data collection and decision-making tools, can help in responding and adapting to climate change.

Launched in 2018, it is just one component of the NSW Primary Industries’ Climate Change Research Strategy, a four-year program backed by $29.2 million from the NSW Government’s Climate Change Fund.

Led by digital technology specialist Dr Allen Benter, the Climate Smart Pilots project will see DPI researchers from across the fisheries, horticulture and livestock sectors work with farmers to test how new technologies can inform and improve management decisions.

Digital technology

NSW’s primary industries sector is worth $15.4 billion annually.  Yet, to continue to contribute to the state’s economic growth, the risks and opportunities presented by climate change need to be understood and adapted to.

Digital technology is seen as an important factor underpinning adaptation. The national research project Precision to Decision found that digital technologies offer immense opportunities in primary industries with an annual estimated productivity uplift potential of $20.3 billion to agriculture’s gross production value.

In the Climate Smart Pilots project, digital technologies are being used to help farmers develop adaptation strategies.

For example, in the horticulture sector, technologies allow farmers greater irrigation automation and convenient control, helping to deliver water use efficiency gains. In the oyster industry, mobile temperature loggers allow farmers to monitor stock as they move through leases, providing an early warning of extreme temperature events.

Wireless irrigation valve controller being trialled on a commercial apple and cherry orchard near Orange as part of the Climate Smart Pilots. Photo: Matthew Pierce

As temperatures warm, rainfall regimes change and seasons shift, technologies will allow greater early warnings, input control, and provide new ways to manage farming systems.

Many farmers see immediate benefits in terms of labour saving. In the livestock industry, manual jobs such as checking kilometres of stock watering points during drought can be halved when sensor technologies are used.

However, these tools also have longer term benefits. Dr Benter says “As participating farmers upskill and begin to use technologies, they also find new ways of harnessing that technology themselves. This combination of technology, experience and know-how better prepares farmers for managing climate variations this year and into the future.”

This steady progress of technology use is important. “Farmers are having to ask themselves: ‘What will be the impacts on my business in 15-50 years? And what impact will an investment today have in a scenario that is still fluid?’”

“It is important that the measures we test today have an impact now. That includes water management in times of drought, heat stress from summer heat waves, or animal welfare during extreme weather events. But these ‘stories of today’ will have future relevance.”

Each case will highlight how technologies are important in improving the adaptability of farming systems. “Digital technology use will help all of us better understand the impacts and severity of a changing climate, with increasing variability expected into the future.”

By working closely with farmers, the project ‘road tests’ technologies, assessing how access to data and decision-making tools influences on-farm decisions, adaptation and profitability.

Field testing a prototype automatic weather station built by NSW DPI staff with LoRaWAN telemetry. Photo: Matthew Pierce

Dr Benter acknowledges that there are many innovative farmers already making use of new technologies. “We want to aid them in that use. Each farmer will be different in how they adopt these technologies and adapt to climate change.

“As such the work will be ‘open source’ and made publicly available. This will allow any innovative savvy farmer to pick it up and scale as required. That could mean spending $200 on a system to remotely read a water tank level or $20,000 to have an entire farm digitised.”

Lead agency

NSW DPI already plays an important role in facilitating the development of innovation into knowledge. By delivering practical demonstrations of digital technology and exploring novel options in managing climate variability, it will continue to do this, maximising productive digital adoption.

NSW DPI is uniquely positioned to achieve this by drawing on its leading scientists, relationships with external expertise, and by utilising its extensive research sites.

 

As a part of the NSW Primary Industries Climate Change Research Strategy this website has been established for Climate Smart Pilots to communicate project updates, share data and facilitate training/documentation for stakeholders.