All systems go as space ag research program launches

Far above the earth satellite technology can help answer some important farming facts, from what weeds are present to whether a crop needs water or fertiliser.

Soon that information will be available to farmers on a new platform called Maya Nula, to be built by Australia’s leading space research centre, SmartSat.

Maya Nula which had its launch in Canberra on Tuesday, means “eyes here, there, everywhere” in the Dharug language of the Eora nation.

The centre, which is a consortium of universities and other research organisations, hopes the platform will provide information to farmers within three years.

The system combines space technology with on-ground sensors to monitor things like the amount of moisture and carbon in the soil, as well as predicting crop yield.

“You’ll be able to identify the extent of weeds in a paddock, and …. the moisture in the soil to know whether the soil is drying up and whether you need to water it,” said SmartSat’s chief executive officer Andy Koronios.

“It will have a number of pillars, one would be around soil carbon and soil health, the other will be around the condition of crops and yield prediction, as well as biosecurity,” Professor Koronios said.

The system will use higher resolution images to monitor crop health from space, so growers can determine when to rotate them and what chemicals need to be applied to avoid overuse.

The aim is eventually to have the data available in real time.

“We … collect data that the farmers would want rather than use the data that is available … lower resolution and not quite meeting the needs of the farmers,” Prof Koronios told AAP.

Lead scientist at the program Jasmine Muir said Maya Nula will be easy for farmers to use.

“Satellites offer a more efficient and cheaper way to do that than any of the current methods,” Dr Muir said.

“We’re also putting together projects around sustainability, detecting the biodiversity on farms from some space … farmers may want to use that information for showing their own sustainable practice,” Dr Muir said.

“With earth observation it’s really the only way to monitor across large areas in countries as large as Australia,” she said.

SmartSat is already working with the CSIRO using space technology to examine water quality across Australia’s inland water bodies as well as the coastal zone.

The research centre is also working to develop earth observation satellites to avoid Australia having to rely on foreign countries for data.


Liv Casben
(Australian Associated Press)


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