Dean Taylor revisits the innovation centre at National Fieldays

Two heavyweights of the agri-tech world were at the Grassroots Innovations Centre at Fieldays with a serious piece of kit combining the latest in robotics and chemistry to solve one of the biggest problems in dairy farming -- nitrate leaching.

Summit Quinphos founder Dr Bert Quin and engineer Geoff Bates met about two years ago by chance. Quin was working on a project for a tail-activated N-inhibiter device and Bates was working on a robotic tanker to collect and distribute shed effluent and cow waste.

Among his many previous inventions was the Dungbuster.

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Between them they knew something about cow waste.

The pair pooled their considerable resources and knowledge to invent a robotic trailer (Spikey) which detects and treats urine patches.

The 1.8m-wide prototype was at Fieldays.

It is a fitment which is towed through recently grazed fields and uses signals from spiked metal wheels to detect recent urine patches. It has a high degree of accuracy.

It has equipment which immediately sprays each patch with ORUN -- a mixture of environmentally-safe products.

Joint research now under way shows that ORUN will be at least as effective as DCD in reducing nitrate leaching.

The dairy industry recently decided to remove DCD products from the market.

The pair's invention won the most innovative award in the Innovation Den.

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They formed the company Pastoral Robotics -- with a motto of "Productivity, profitability, clean streams".

"We are passionate about clean streams," the pair say, and are also passionate about helping farmers manage nutrients and to be profitable.

Their invention allows the pasture to cover far more of the nitrate formed from urine. This boosts pasture growth, increasing productivity and profitability.

After a high level of investor and research interest from Fieldays, Pastoral Robotics are working to incorporate the system into Overseer and developing an 8m-wide model for the market.

It is expected this wider commercial version would sell for under $40,000 and lease options might be investigated. Either way, research by Quin and Bates indicates that using the machine results in a net payback. Spikey is just one of the innovations under development by Pastoral Robotics using existing and new technologies.