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Looking forward, looking back: Celebrating USQ’s growing role in AgTech

Opening more than 50 years ago, the University of Southern Queensland’s Centre for Agricultural Engineering (CAE) remains the only university program in Australia to offer agricultural engineering, securing a firm foothold in the growing AgTech industry.

Centre Director Professor Craig Baillie said in recent decades the access to technology for the farming sector had changed dramatically and encouraged a new wave of interest from students and researchers alike.

“I’m an agricultural engineer and it’s the access to technology and farm equipment and design that excited me about a career in this space,” Professor Baillie said.

“What these new technologies allow is also to excite others that might come into the industry that might not have an agricultural background,” he said.

“We have folk within our research centre who have a background in mechatronics engineering so traditionally they wouldn’t have been in agriculture so all of a sudden agriculture is a lot more interesting to a lot more people which opens up more opportunities.”

One such opportunity at the Toowoomba-based CAE is the one-hectare field enclosure that allows students and academics to conduct research at a commercial scale to test new technologies before deploying them in the field.

“Normally we have to travel a distance to do work in the field but now we can do some of that work here on campus and get students involved as well,” Professor Baillie said.

The site is currently being utilised heavily to assist in the development of technologies informing precision agriculture with the help of one of the largest self-propelled sprayers available in Australia thanks to a research agreement with tractor manufacturer, John Deere.

“The R4045 is fitted out with the latest technology which makes it a great opportunity to work with John Deere on new developments that also underpin some of the research activities at the University of Southern Queensland,” Professor Baillie said.

“Further to that, our students are getting access to that technology before farmers. That’s the experience we want for our students, that by getting involved with the sorts of things we do they get exposed to that technology and those partnerships within industry too.”

Mechatronics engineering undergraduate and CAE research assistant Logan Torrance said industry connections were helping him build his resume before he even hit the job market.

“The skills that I’m learning can be applied in a multitude of situations whether it’s the mining industry or here in Toowoomba or anywhere,” Mr Torrance said.

“The thing about working with John Deere especially, is the fact they’re able to use the knowledge we’ve got and use that elsewhere, so a lot of researchers at the Centre actually get to go and implement the research around the globe.”

Professor Craig Baillie said the value of the University’s AgTech research was made abundantly clear during his four-month research stay in Texas as part of his 2019 Fulbright Scholarship.

“I was quite heartened to learn that the work we do here at the Centre for Agricultural Engineering is very well aligned with the tech that’s emerging and being developed,” he said.

The future of AgTech is at USQ’s Centre for Agricultural Engineering which is focused on practical and profitable research solutions. Find out more.

November is Qld AgTech Month.

Man smiling with tractor in the background
Professor Craig Baillie (USQ Photography)