The Cawthron Institute will provide $2m funding for a two year project to apply a range of advanced technologies to aquaculture with the aim of giving farmers the ability to remotely manage their farms and stock.
The Precision Farming Technology for Aquaculture project is part of the National Science Challenges ‘Spearhead’ project, funded by the Science for Technological Innovation (SfTI) National Science Challenge Board.
The Institute says the project will look at how sensing technologies, lasers, artificial intelligence, sensors, drones and robotics can be combined with practical, applied research to provide solutions to the aquaculture industry.
The project will bring together a team of researchers from Cawthron Institute, University of Auckland, Victoria University of Wellington, University of Canterbury and the NZ Product Accelerator. An Industry Advisory Group will also be established.
According to the institute, the long-term vision is to establish New Zealand as a leader in hi-tech, aquaculture automation and remote farm intelligence.
“The innovations unlocked through the project are likely to have applications beyond aquaculture; for example may aid biosecurity and environmental surveillance in ports and harbours,” it said.
“There are unique challenges to farming in the ocean. Farms must be physically accessed by boat, with stock health and condition manually recorded. High costs and delicate equipment are barriers to implementing new technology; this project will innovate to reduce these obstacles.”
Cawthron Institute Coastal and Freshwater Group manager, Dr Chris Cornelisen, who will lead the project, said: “We’ll be developing new chemical sensors that can identify the amount of food and nutrients in the water, and imaging sensors that use artificial intelligence to let farmers ‘see’ their farm and stock condition in real time from a computer or mobile device.”
He added: "The aquaculture industry aims to reach $1 billion in sales by 2025. Technology that promotes sustainability, efficiency, and the ability to farm further offshore will play a significant role in achieving this target.”
Aquaculture tech helping Australian oyster farmers
Australian startup, The Yield, is already successfully applying high tech to aquaculture, helping oyster farmers in Tasmania.
Oyster farmers are prohibited from harvesting after heavy rainfall because run-off increases pollution in the waters near the coast where their farms a located. The Yield measures the salinity of the water and combines this with rainfall and tidal data and modelling of the estuaries.
It then applies machine learning and artificial intelligence techniques to determine pollution levels, and hence harvesting windows. Its system has been approved by the Tasmanian Government agency responsible for regulating the industry and the company claims to have increased the oyster harvesting window by four weeks a year.