A Water Rat that sends an alert when water levels get too low has taken out the top prize in the inaugural South West Victorian Dairy Innovation Challenge.
The Water Rat trough and tank, entered by Nick Seymour of Farmo Group Pty Ltd, was named the overall Dairy Innovation Challenge winner, while also taking out the local sustainability-environmental award.
The entry eclipsed 18 other submissions in the competition.
Judges said the simplicity of the Water Rat addressed a real issue for farmers that has significant consequences.
Running cattle on a block that was four hours from his home, prompted Mr Seymour to create the sensor so he had peace of mind that they had sufficient water at all times.
"The main benefit is knowing that you will get an alert when there is a problem with the water supply so you don't have to worry all the time when you are away - you might even be able to go away for a weekend with the family!" Mr Seymour said.
There are things you can pick up from constant real-time monitoring that you will never see even if you check the water every day.
Based on Struan and Kybybolite Best Practice Demonstration Farm calculations, the Water Rat pays for itself in about three months through savings on labour, fuel, and equipment used in water checks.
"There are things you can pick up from constant real-time monitoring that you will never see even if you check the water every day," Mr Seymour said.
"Some farmers have reported discovering troughs that go empty for a couple of hours every day, and have adjusted the mob size or pipe size accordingly.
"We designed the Water Rat as a simple call to action alert, but there is also value in the longitudinal data which can be analysed and cross-referenced against other aspects of the farm."
The Water Rat was in the design phase for two years.
"I started with sensors that were fixed to the trough and then moved to floating models to make the devices easy to install and more resistant to damage," Mr Seymour said.
"We made lots of prototypes with foam and plumbing parts, then bought a 3D printer and started making more refined models.
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It took a long time to get the shape right, and then we needed to experiment with the right amount of ballast to make it float correctly."
The electronics and especially the antennae design took months of testing and refinement.
"The design is informed by the available manufacturing methods, which vary according to the sales projections (which are basically zero at the start), so the first 50 units were made by laser cutting and folding aluminium components," Mr Seymour said.
"It was only after the product was proving itself in the field that I was able to think about making the enclosure by injection moulding which allows for the fluid shape you can see today."
The Water Rat includes an accelerometer tilt sensor to detect movement, an NB-IoT chip to send data, and GPS to report location.
"We had to do a lot of work mapping the Telstra NB-IoT network coverage in the field," Mr Seymour said.
"There are published coverage maps but these are created by modelling predictions and nobody had really tested these with real devices in the field, so we had to do a lot of that work ourselves.
"When we had problems we had access to some of Telstra's best engineers and access to their development lab in Lonsdale Street which helped us enormously."
The Sustainability-Environmental award for outside the south-west was won by Geoff Schaller of Arcoflex Pty Ltd Boronia for an energy monitoring system to improve efficiencies of farm energy use.
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An encouragement Sustainability-Environmental award was given to Lisette Mill from Basalt to Bay Landcare Network for a Pop-up Puddle diversity survey kit.
A magnet, a length of cord and a hook were all that Scott's Creek farmer Jamie Vogels needed to come up with an award-winning dairy farm innovation.
Mr Vogels' milk hose steadier won the local farm award.
The challenge is an initiative of the DemoDAIRY Foundation (DDF) in partnership with Great South Coast Food and Fibre and Elders.
DDF judges said the milk hose steadier was something many farmers could use to prevent cup slippage while milking cows.
"The beauty of this innovation is in its simplicity to address an everyday issue for farmers," the judges said.
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The farm award from outside south-west Victoria was won by Anna Norgen from STgen in Albury with a precision map for dairy cow breeding with a customised herd audit that shows genetic trends.
Judges said it was a good use of digital and technical advancements to streamline breeding and semen use decisions for farmers to achieve 'fit for purpose' cows.
The farm encouragement award to further develop an idea was won by Peter Crothers of Wangoom for his "robodog" concept
The fully autonomous robotic dog would be set on a ride-on lawnmower body with a robot GPS tracked from a central computer at the dairy.
"We encourage the creativity and aspirational reaches of this concept to harness the potential of digital technologies to improve the efficiencies across the dairy farm," judges said.
DDF chair Ralph Leutton said the challenge had demonstrated the positive outlook of dairy farmers.
"Farmers are the most inventive people you come across and dairy farmers are a prime example of that," he said.
"The DDF Innovation Challenge has helped to bring some of their innovations to the fore and I thank the entrants and the judges for their contribution."
The winners shared more than $8000 in prizemoney.
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