Emerging technology has potential to transform food production, enabling premium crops to be grown virtually anywhere, anytime, with key parameters monitored and inputs controlled precisely and automatically. To realise this vision, however, we must develop automated systems tailored for 21stcentury protected-cropping facilities, then simplify these to create affordable, accessible solutions for growers.

Protected cropping (PC) – including low-tech polytunnels; medium-tech facilities enabling some environmental control; and hightech facilities, such as fully automated glasshouses and indoor vertical-farm facilities – can produce far more food per land area than can field-based horticulture.

These days, it’s possible to achieve high crop productivity and quality using environmental-control technology and precision phenotyping, involving image processing and big-data analysis, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). For Australia to move toward realising this vision, however, the technology for monitoring crops and ensuring optimal conditions in protected cropping facilities must be made accessible and affordable to growers.

Automating data collection via remote sensing of crops is integral to the more general automation of facilities that’s needed across the sector to reduce reliance on itinerant labour. It is also central to increasing the environmental sustainability of production via the fine-tuning of energy, water and other inputs.

Much of the sensor and phenotyping technology developed to date has been tailored to field and broadacre agriculture, but we can adapt these methods to peri-urban and inner-city greenhouse, glasshouse and vertical farming operations, as outlined in this report.

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