WOOL grower Hugh McKay’s dislike of farm fencing has led to an innovation that could slash time and labour on the fenceline.
His Smart Fencer concept to automatically drive fence posts and run wire has won him a grant of $21,000 as the winner of the Australian Wool Innovation award in the 2019 Science and Innovation Awards.
The 25 year-old is among 14 early career researchers, scientists and innovators aged 18-35 years who will share about $330,000 in grants in the industry categories of the awards.
The grant recipients are also eligible for the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources’ Award to be announced at the ABARES Outlook 2019 conference dinner on Tuesday 5 March.
Hugh said the grant would enable him to build a Smart Fencer prototype. He has an international patent on his invention and is getting quotes from manufacturers.
“The goal is to have it done within a year.”
The Smart Fencer process begins with inputting where the fence will start and end. The system calculates how many posts to load up, depending on post spacing, length and distance.
“Up until this point it has all been kind of conceptual and doing the research to see if all the bits and pieces will work, the ideas behind it, and now it’s about putting it together in a real firm and giving it a good test run.”
Hugh said the fencer is designed to initially use iron droppers with plain or prefabricated fencing, but could be adapted for wooden posts.
The Smart Fencer will be fully automated once the posts and wire is loaded and then attached to a strainer.
“As you drive along the posts will be automatically grabbed, driven into the ground and the wires are run through.
“You get to the end of the fence, tie it off and off you go again,” he said.
“The idea is that just one person sitting in the cabin of the ute driving, so there is no manual labour for him, and then it is just as quickly as you can get it automated…
“But I think you would be looking at three to four kilometres an hour rather say 500 metres is a pretty good day’s work for a couple of fencing contractors for a six-wire fence,” he said.
“Realistically it will be about how quickly you can strain a fence, rather than building it.”
Hugh said he had always been creative and “hands-on”. He studied product design and engineering at Swinburne University, and previously worked for Adshel in Melbourne. He returned to help his parents on the farm during the drought a year ago and has applied his product design background to the fencing trailer.
Hugh said the Smart Fencer project was inspired by hours spent fencing on hot days.
“I always thought it was a very slow, tedious process, moving back and forth up the fence a number of times.
“It’s probably my least favourite thing to do on the farm, especially in the middle of summer,” he said.
His family’s mixed farm produces sheep and cattle with some cropping at Henty in southern New South Wales. Some of the farm’s land is undulating making it difficult to fence.
“In think where this will be most beneficial will be in outback regions maybe the Northern Territory or Queensland where there are long straight fencelines where you can go hell for leather and don’t require much straining.”
He estimated investing in his fencing trailer would pay off within a few years for an average farm.
Other livestock industry winners included Murdoch University technical officer and PhD student Travis Allington who won the Meat & Livestock Australia award to continue his triplet lambing research.
He is developing the use of sensors to increase the survival of ewes and their twin or triplet lambs, by understanding ewe and lamb behaviours around the time of birth.
“My project will specifically look at the multiple-born portion of the sheep flock, which are most vulnerable under extensive grazing conditions.”
He said farmers are anecdotally identifying paddocks that achieve better lamb survival year after year.
“But we don’t necessarily know why those particular paddocks are a lot better and whether those paddocks are changing the ewe’s behaviour.”
He will attach new sensor technology to sheep to capture the location and behaviour of ewes during lambing.
“The project’s a little bit of a proof-of-concept to look at whether the sensor technology can be used to look at maternal behaviour of multiple bearing ewes on a larger scale.
“So things like time of birth, the length of the ewe’s labour, time at the birth site and interactions from other ewes to see how that is affecting lamb survival.”
Travis believes the sensors have huge potential, and this project is just the tip of the iceberg.
“The potential in terms of measuring animal welfare on ewes and sheep in Australia is massive with these types of sensors, to increase both welfare and production.”
Dr Kateryna (Katia) Bazaka won the Australian Meat Processor Corporation award to continue trialling a new way to clean up dirty water from abattoirs while producing value-added products.
Katia, a plasma scientist at the Queensland University of Technology, is investigating treating dirty water with plasma to break the waste products down—first to small molecules and then to carbon dioxide, water and other products.
Looking like the glow from the “Star Wars” blue light sabre, plasma is an ionised gas in which electrons and ions co-exist.
“We know it works because we have used different aspects of plasma treatment,” Katia said.
“So far, we’ve done plasma decontamination of water, plasma breakdown of pesticides on fruit, as well as conversion of various waste products into useful materials using plasma.
“But we haven’t actually used all of these aspects in one application and that’s what this project is all about.”
She is looking at using solar panels to help produce plasma to reduce the environmental cost and the economic cost of the set-up. The wastewater project caught Katia’s eye because of the opportunity to create a device that was useful for industry and one she could be proud of.
Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud said the innovators recognised in the awards would keep Australian agriculture at the cutting edge.
“These are innovative and practical ideas that will make farm businesses more efficient and provide greater protection against biosecurity threats.”
Travis Allington – Meat & Livestock Australia Award
Kateryna Bazaka – Australian Meat Processor Corporation Award
Dean Brookes – Cotton Research and Development Corporation Award
Lewis Collins – Grains Research and Development Corporation Award
Bethany Finger – Dairy Australia Award
Elizabeth Hickey – Australian Eggs Award
James Kondilios – Forest & Wood Products Australia Award
Rocco Longo – Wine Australia Award
Jessica Lye – CSIRO Health and Biosecurity Award
Hugh McKay – Australian Wool Innovation Award
Elliot Scanes – Fisheries Research and Development Corporation Award
Kirsty Short – Australian Eggs Award
Anne Watt – Australian Pork Limited Award
Ashlea Webster – AgriFutures Australia Award
Click here to read full details on all the award winners.