Cotton growers to get Artificial Intelligence tech to tackle spray drift

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Researchers at Monash University are applying Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology and game-design practices to reduce spray drift from agricultural pesticides

Pesticide spray drift is harmful to both non-target crops and the environment as a whole. In an effort to combat it, the Cotton Research and Development Corporation (CRDC) has set up a project dubbed Revolutionising Agricultural Spray Applications.

The project is a partnership between the Faculty of Information Technology (IT) at Monash University, BARD AI, PentaQuest, and AgriSci,  that is applying technology solutions that support informed spraying operations and better decision-making to reduce the impacts of spray drift.

Faculty of IT Interim Dean, Professor Ann Nicholson, said the project is currently developing cutting-edge solutions that combine AI technology, information and psychology to tackle the challenge of spray drift.

“Information alone does not change behaviour and the use of advanced technology doesn’t ensure the adoption of new platforms by farmers. By incorporating game-like design applications which drive better training and engagement outcomes, together with AI-driven decision support modelling, we’re able to deliver continuous adoption and accurate decision support that informs farmers appropriately,” said Professor Nicholson.

The gamification mechanics of the platform will encourage behavioural change by incentivising farmers through community participation, recognition of compliance as well as real-time risk assessments regarding their current spraying practices.

The AI component of the project will rely on Bayesian Networks, which provide a rigorous probabilistic methodology for modelling real world problems. This technology will deliver decision support to inform farmers in real-time about the potential risks and consequences of their spraying decisions.

Researchers at Monash University are applying Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology and game-design practices to reduce spray drift from agricultural pesticides, minimising the negative impact on neighbouring crops and wildlife

As Founder of BARD AI, Ross Pearson explained, this solution focuses on spray drift in a broadacre setting, but its potential and applications are much greater.

“Our solution combines leading-edge thinking and technology in behavioural science and probabilistic modelling to deliver an engaging experience for farmers that supports them through better decision-making,” said Mr Pearson.

Representing SOS (Stop Off-target Spraying) Gwydir, a group of like-minded growers, agronomists, resellers, consultants and spray contractors who want to eradicate spray drift, Byron Birch explained the need to engage the agricultural community and encourage practice change that reduces the occurrence of off-target spraying and safer spraying techniques.

 “Off target spray drift is like cancer from passive smoking. It is the invisible cloud that can destroy another farmer’s livelihood downwind. Education, technology and regulation are all needed to fight the problem,” said Birch.

Mary O’Brien, from Mary O’Brien Rural Enterprises, works as a private consultant conducting spray application and drift management workshops around Australia. She has travelled to Canada and the United States, teaching and working with farmers and researchers on spray application and has worked extensively with spray contractors and farmers in Australia.

“It’s important to deliver spray training in a practical and accessible format for applicators. This facilitates better engagement and learning outcomes, and more importantly, leads to better adoption and uptake of best practice,” said O’Brien.

The project received a Business Research and Innovation Initiative grant of close to $100,000 earlier this year and will be eligible to apply for a grant of up to $1 million to develop a prototype or proof of concept later this year.

BARD AI, which is a spin-off from a US Government funded research project led by Monash University, has been supported by Monash’s Enterprise portfolio by establishing commercialisation pathways with CSIRO’s ON Program, the Monash Generator Accelerator Program, as well as connectivity to the agricultural sector through the Monash AgTech LaunchPad.