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Two men at desk.
USQ's Dr Keith Pembleton at work on the John Conner Project.
In just 46 hours, a three-man team led by University of Southern Queensland (USQ) researcher Dr Keith Pembleton pulled together streams of government data to come up with a warning system that can take the heat off vegetables.

Apart from yielding a prototype which is being developed into a tool Queensland growers can use to minimise the impact of heat stress on vegetable crops, the exercise has already handed the Toowoomba Trio the runner-up 2016 GovHack award in the Queensland Science Sandpit category.

Dr Pembleton said he and his teammates USQ colleague Associate Professor Adam Sparks and University of Queensland undergraduate Gordon Grundy dubbed their project John Conner after the protagonist in The Terminator movies.

“Apart from all three of us being big fans of The Terminator franchise, we called it John Conner because of our interest in automated and virtual systems to help growers ‘terminate’ the key challenges they face,” Dr Pembleton said.

John Conner integrates Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) and Queensland Government data to predict and measure localised heat-stress events.

It then passes data on to vegetable growers as quickly as possible via email or text-message warnings to enable them to take preventive actions like irrigation or early harvest to minimise crop losses.

“High temperatures can cause considerable stress to crops, reducing yields and the quality of the produce grown, and what our team put together for GovHack is the prototype of an early-warning system for farmers.”

“With further development, the John Conner project could be a useful way for them to initiate remedial action quickly to minimise damage and save the crop,” he said.

The hack uses hourly weather data from the Bureau of Meteorology to test and validate weather down-scaling methodologies, and combines this with daily weather data from the Queensland Government’s SILO database.

It also incorporates data from the ABS’s National Regional Profile to report on whole-of-industry impacts of the adverse weather event.

“Since the competition, we have developed some more ideas on how the system could be improved and used to help more farmers from a greater number of industries address a greater number of challenges, and we are looking for resources to enable us to keep working on it.”

Dr Pembleton is heading to the National GovHack awards in Adelaide on Saturday (October 22) to represent the Toowoomba Trio, which is a finalist in the national awards.

GovHack is an annual open data competition held in Australia and New Zealand which draws together people from government, industry, academia and the public to provide new, interesting and innovative ways to benefit the community.

This year’s event attracted 70 teams in Queensland alone, and the competition took place over the last weekend in July at eight locations throughout the state.

The teams’ brief was to use, reuse and mash-up open state, local and federal government data to create apps, data visualisations, games and unique-maker entries.

“The GovHack weekend competition was really fast paced; we were amazed in what we managed to achieve as a team within such a tight timeframe,” Dr Pembleton said.

Dr Pembleton is an agricultural systems modelling specialist, and works as a Senior Research Fellow within USQ’s Agricultural Systems Modelling Research Group in the Institute for Agriculture and the Environment, while Associate Professor Adam Sparks works in plant pathology at USQ’s Centre for Crop Health.

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