Not only will a new agricultural hub boost research outcomes for mixed farmers, it will also act as a showcase for innovative digital farm technologies.
Located on the south west slopes of NSW, the CSIRO Boorowa Agriculture Research Station opened earlier this month, following an $11.5 million investment and four years of planning and development.
CSIRO deputy director for agriculture and food Dr Michael Robertson said the new site replaces the retired Ginninderra Experimental Station, which had been in operation, just outside of Canberra, since 1958.
"While we have done some wonderful work there, we realised we needed to have a research station in the true mixed cropping livestock area," he said.
"It allows us to work on that farming system and the issues relevant to that farming system."
Dr Robertson said the Boorowa station was fully digitally-enabled, equipped with 100 temperature and humidity probes, 72 soil moisture probes, and six weather stations to monitor experiments in crop science, agronomy and farming systems across its 290 hectares.
"We have set up a digital infrastructure which will enable field trials to collect all sorts of data in automated ways," he said.
"Digital is shaping how we do science now, so we have to get on board and embrace these new technologies to see if they can aid us in doing our research more efficiently and effectively."
Dr Robertson said digital technologies would allow larger more in-depth research to be carried out.
"Collection of data can be automated, that cuts down on labour and time to collect it, you can collect it more accurately and frequently," he said.
"You can then have larger field trials, the ability to look at a greater number of varieties for example, or measure more soil attributes in a farming systems trial, things that would be beyond or capacity if we were doing it manually."
Dr Robertson said investing in cutting edge tools on the research station also benefited farmers by allowing them access to assess new technologies and see if they could be used on their own farms.
"I think it is still very early days and a lot of farmers are standing back and watching what these technologies can do, what they can help with, there is a fair bit of hype, but these things are also going to become more commonplace on farm," he said.
"The Boorowa station will allow us to trial these systems, and farmers will be able to come along to the station and look at the kind of information they can generate and make up their own minds whether it will help with management decisions."
Irrigation and GM enabled
Dr Robertson said setting up a new farm from scratch had a number of benefits in terms of research.
"It means we started with a blank state, you can install infrastructure which would be difficult to retro-fit in an old research station," he said.
"For example we have the capability to do irrigation work at Boorowa, allowing us to manipulate water when we are looking at drought and water supply effects on crop an pasture growth.
"We built netted area genetically modified crop research as well."
Dr Robertson said it was really important for farmers to have access to trial sites and be able to see the outcomes of research.
"We deliberately purchased a property on a main road, we will be having regular field days there and inviting our research partners, such as the state departments and universities, to come on and run their own activities, we hope it will become a hub for mixed farming research" he said.
"The local community have been really excited and very supportive.
"Both from the perspective of having the researchers in their local community doing research that is relevant to them, secondly because it brings economic activity into the community."
CSIRO director of agriculture and food Dr Michiel van Lookeren Campagne said it was more important than ever to advance innovative science to build resilient agriculture systems and increase food production.
"Our agriculture industries are facing major challenges, especially with the current drought," he said.
"Here at Boorowa, we'll be trialling new varieties of wheat, canola, legumes and pastures that can withstand warmer and drier conditions, such as those predicted for the future.
"We'll also continue to research the best farming practices to manage our fragile soils and get the most from every drop of water."
Dr van Lookeren Campagne said the $11.5 million research station was developed with $1.5 million support from the Grains Research and Development Corporation as well as investment from the Science and Industry Endowment Fund.