From the cloud to the crops: transforming the future of farming

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How one Victorian business is using machine learning to create hyperlocal weather forecasts for farmers.

Channel Seven meteorologist Jane Bunn is no stranger to the world of weather forecasts. But with rapid advancements in technology, she is always on the lookout for better ways to provide more accurate weather data to farmers and the agriculture industry.

Enter Jane’s Weather – a weather platform providing customised and granular weather forecasts to help Australian farmers manage their resources and boost their output.

A tractor lifting a crate of plants, driving across dirtWith her business’s strong focus on advanced technology, Jane jumped at the opportunity to participate in the SummerTech LIVE program, where she was paired with ICT students, Devender Kumar from RMIT and Zhi Hern Tom from the University of Melbourne.

Working with Devender and Zhi Hern during their 10-week studentship, the team was able to develop a proof of concept on using machine learning to improve the accuracy of weather predictions.

By analysing temperature data, they proved that their method could increase the accuracy of forecasts tenfold.

‘It’s all about using this data in the best way we can to get precision farming in the end,’ Jane says.

Speaking about what the students gained from the experience, their supervisor, Dr Tingru Cui – a Senior Lecturer in Information Systems at the University of Melbourne – said they were able to learn a whole range of new skills they wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to.

‘This opportunity allowed our students to develop forecasting models based on actual, real-time datasets. Being out in the field gave them a unique chance to use machine learning algorithms, explore data analysis and use new statistical techniques.’

Channel Seven meteorologist Jane Bunn pointing to her iPhone screen while a main next to her looks onJohn Said, CEO of Werribee-based farm Fresh Select, is one of Jane’s clients who has benefitted from the improved technology.

‘We can make decisions right down to the day we plant and when we are harvesting. That accuracy and detail specific to the region is hugely important to us,’ John says.

‘The SummerTech LIVE program has helped us a lot. As we migrate to machine learning and AI, it’s going to make the accuracy of information even better. It will really get down to day-to-day or even an hour-by-hour proposition for us.’

SummerTech LIVE, which is delivered on behalf of government by the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), has placed more than 500 students with almost 300 businesses since it began in 2017.

Last year, the Victorian Government announced it would inject a further $2.5 million over 2 years, allowing even more students to kickstart their careers in IT, while also providing much-needed digital skills to Victorian businesses.

The next round of SummerTech LIVE is expected to open later this year.

Find out more about SummerTech LIVE.