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    Skillinvest chief executive Darren Webster and GWMWater chief executive Mark Williams sign a Longernong Data Farm project agreement.

Wheels in motion for DATA farm


A $3.6-million project to place Longerenong College at the cutting edge of broadacre agricultural technology has reached a critical milestone with sign-off on the venture.

Signatures from agencies involved in establishing a one-of-a-kind technology-based demonstration farm at the college have given the project the official green light.

Project leader Skillinvest, which operates the college, the State Government, backing the project with $2.5-million, and GWMWater, providing technical project support, are all signatories.

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Wimmera Development Association and Birchip Cropping Group are also part of the partnership. Preparations for the Demonstration of Agricultural Technology Applications – DATA – farm project had been well underway since the government confirmed funding support last year. 

The signing-off provides it with critical momentum.

The college is spending just under $1-million on new state-of-the-art equipment as part of the project, with some having already arrived and a new self-propelled boom spray scheduled to arrive at the end of the month.

Other machinery to arrive has included the latest in fertiliser spreaders and side-by-side utility vehicles.

Skillinvest operates the college and chief executive Darren Webster said development would rapidly gain pace, with the farm on schedule to be fully established in 2020 and a DATA-farm teaching program in full swing by 2021.

“We’re talking about a 1000-hectare farm and exposing students, farmers and industry to the latest technology available,” he said.

“It is going to be an important part of Longerenong curriculum and will take the farm-learning experience at Longerenong to another level.”

Fully digitalised 

Under the plan the college farm will become fully digitalised, providing physical training for students and a space where farmers can gain insight into the use of latest technology.

“Research into developing agricultural technology has gone through the roof in recent years but this isn’t necessarily matched by farmer take-up,” Mr Webster said.

“Many farmers collect a lot of data but a key is how to use that data productively and efficiently and hopefully in setting up a trial farm at Longerenong we can attract farmers and corporates as well as students to come and see how it operates.”

Mr Webster said a key next step in the project would be to explore the market for companies that could provide computer software and data-collection sensors and systems as part of the over-arching digitalisation of the farm.

“It’s a very important stage in the process and we hope to have that happening within the next month,” he said.

A project-control and steering group involving representatives from partner organisations and chaired by Mr Webster is overseeing the development.

A sub-committee, working with a variety of people, including farmers and industry experts, is exploring and assessing equipment needs.

The DATA farm is part of a broader college Agriculture Technology Innovation Development – AgTIDE – program, which attracted $578,000 in State Government funding, also last year.

Wimmera Southern Mallee Partnership, one of nine regional think-tank and development groups established by the State Government in 2016, identified developing ‘AgTech’ in the region a key priority. 

The entire September 11, 2019 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!