Hackathon stimulates digital solutions to agricultural challenges

Agriculture and Food Minister, Alannah MacTiernan (centre), congratulates the members of Team Dex and DPIRD mentor, Rob Emery (far right), on winning the 2018 AgTech Hackathon.

Tech innovators gathered in Perth recently for a hackathon event to work on developing new digital solutions to overcome a range of challenges in the agriculture industry.

The AgTech Hackathon was sponsored by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD), in partnership with the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer and facilitated by the Ministry of Data, a not-for-profit organisation.

The department’s investment in the hackathon was designed to stimulate innovation in the technology sector that could benefit agricultural producers and grow international competitiveness.

Agricultural technology has been identified as the next evolutionary leap in the sector’s development so it is important for Western Australia to remain at the forefront of advancements to keep pace with our global counterparts.

Eleven teams worked on creating concepts and prototypes, which could be developed into digital products, such as apps for mobile devices, monitoring and surveillance devices, decision making aids and other tools.

The teams worked on seven challenges:

  • Grading grain at the farm gate - grading grain on the farm
  • Where did my lamb chop come from? - tracking meat quality from processor to customer
  • Monitoring the rangelands - monitoring rangelands condition remotely
  • Connected sheep - tracking the breeding value of ewes
  • Identifying and predicting pests to protect WA - capture photographic evidence of biosecurity threats
  • Whose grain is that? - tracking a property’s  grain deliveries
  • Making sense of agricultural data - simplifying agricultural data formats.

The participants were mentored by DPIRD subject specialists and had access to a number of the department’s publically available databases, accessed via Application Programmable Interfaces (APIs).

APIs allow for information from the DPIRD databases to be exchanged with commercial software applications.

The department’s public API databases include:

  • Weather – data from DPIRD’s network of 175 weather stations, including air temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind speed, wind direction and incoming solar radiation.
  • Radar – real-time rainfall and wind data from a shared collaboration with the Bureau of Meteorology on Doppler radars
  • Soils – provides an aggregation of soils, as to what soils are likely in a certain area.
  • Pestfax Map – Pestfax Map shows occurrences of plant pests and diseases that are reported throughout WA
  • Science – provides the ‘back end’ to the Rainfall to Date, Potential Yield, and Soil Water tools already available on the DPIRD website
  • Organisms – opens access to The Western Australian Organism List (WAOL), which provides the status of organisms which have been categorised under the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007 (BAM Act).

The first place winners, Team Dex, tackled the challenge Identifying and predicting pests to protect WA to develop a prototype artificial intelligence application that immediately identifies an insect and flags it if it poses a biosecurity threat.

The team of six, which came together on the night, used the pest imagery and taxonomic expertise held in tens of thousands of pest reports submitted to the department’s MyPestGuide™ Reporter smartphone app to develop the prototype.

The investigation showed that it was possible for the app to categorise pest threats with up to 95.2% accuracy, based on images alone.

Runner-up team, Grainies, also met on the first night to develop a concept on how to track grain from the farmer to the customer.

Second runner-up, Carbon Eyes in the Sky, saw an opportunity to apply from the team’s involvement in environmental consultancy to use satellite imagery to assess the potential of the rangelands for carbon sequestration.

The Best Young Team award went to Ag-Dex, which addressed the Connected Sheep challenge by building a prototype bluetooth sensor to monitor and measure ewe and lamb health and behaviour.

Each team also addressed several of the other challenges on offer.

The participants will now work with the Ministry of Data to identify and promote some of the solutions, which could be developed into products or businesses.

The AgTech Hackathon complements other department initiatives to support the advancement of ag tech in WA, including the Digital Farm Grants program, funding places at the Combine Agtech Hub and the Harvest AgTech Accelerator program.

The department’s eConnected Grainbelt project is also exploring how digital technology can assist growers and industry to become more productive and profitable. For more information visit the department’s website.