How Frontier Farming Systems Uses SlantRange Imaging Technology to Gain a Competitive Advantage

Innovation is everything for a business. Whether it’s new technology, new products, or better ways to serve your clients, if you’re not constantly evolving, you’re going to fall behind.

Michael Moodie leads Frontier Farming Systems, an agricultural research and development business in the Mallee region of Victoria, Australia.

Providing research services to farmers and agronomists throughout Southeastern Australia, Moodie and his team at Frontier seek to answer agriculture’s biggest questions and solve major challenges for the clients they serve.

Government agencies and universities don’t typically provide services in regions such as the Mallee, so private businesses like Frontier Farming Systems fill an important research and development void, he said.

For his business, this research gap means greater freedom and flexibility to invest in innovation and new technology to strengthen his services — which led him to SlantRange.

Describing his services as a general practitioner for farmers and agronomists, Moodie said Frontier’s data needs are as diverse as the clients it serves. Typical projects include herbicide evaluation, soil modification, genetic evaluation of crop varieties, and everything in between.

“What we’re trying to do is collect better data, more often,” he said. “At the moment, data collection is very much focused on destructive sampling, which means you can only collect it a few times. It’s very labor-intensive, or relies on scoring systems or other methods that are very qualitative and hard to convey.”

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The SlantView Aerial Phenotyping Platform for Research & Breeding, showing a suite of traits for each plot and a time history over 3 data collections.

Finding the Right Technology to Improve Client Services

Regardless of the research project Frontier is working on, one constant remains: The need for an efficient, repeatable way to collect accurate and quantitative data.

To collect this data, Moodie was searching for the right technology. His ideal solution would give Frontier Farming Systems insights to better serve its clients — and provide an edge over the competition.

Accurate analytics, data products to answer specific questions, and high-resolution imagery are just scratching the surface. The right technology also needs to make it easy for his team to collect data on trial sites several times throughout the year, efficiently manage these data sets, and provide a history of results so they can analyze trends over time.

It’s also important to be able to process data from the field, so he can make time-critical decisions about his trials, he said.

“Quite often, in agricultural research, you’ll see this great result at the end of the day,” Moodie said. “But it’d be really nice to know where along the line that change might’ve occurred. Was it late in the season? Was it early in the season?”

Once Moodie has those answers, he needs to be able to communicate them to his clients. Because Frontier Farming Systems is a service provider, their projects include sharing information and insights with agronomists, breeders, and researchers — not just gathering data.

If he’s telling a client not to use a particular herbicide on a specific soil type, he needs to be able to show them the data that led him to that conclusion. That means full-resolution orthomosaics to show an image of what happened in the field backed up with quantifiable measurements and analytics he can trust.

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Frontier 2The SlantView Aerial Phenotyping Platform for Production Agriculture, showing a color-coded map of stress conditions, overlaid on a high-resolution orthomosaic. The image at right shows a zoom view of the selected area.

A Solution Built Specifically for Agriculture

Moodie had used drones to gather measurements in the past, and he was familiar with remote sensing technology. Because of past experiences, he said he was skeptical of drone-based measurements when he found SlantRange.

But at the same time, the nature of his business makes it critical for him to be on the cutting-edge of technology.

Other solutions took a long time to process the data, and the information wasn’t much better than what his team was able to generate on their own — making the cost-benefit analysis of drone-based measurement systems not worth it at the time.

He found SlantRange as he was searching for technologically advanced systems that could handle both basic data processing as well as advanced analytics — and make that information accessible for both Frontier and the agronomists it works with.

There are a lot of options for remote sensing systems and data analysis, but many of them are built to serve the needs of several industries. SlantRange’s sole focus on agriculture was a major selling point for Moodie.

Because SlantRange was created specifically to answer the questions of agronomists and researchers, it would be easier to integrate within his existing workflows and processes, he said.

Frontier Farming Systems began using SlantRange aerial phenotyping in late 2019 to streamline and improve their existing services.

The first full season was largely a year of experimentation as they integrated aerial phenotyping into their existing processes, Moodie said. For 2020, his team has expanded its work with SlantRange to include new solutions for production agriculture to serve a broader set of Frontier customers.

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The SlantView Aerial Phenotyping Platform for Research & Breeding, showing stress conditions across a large, complex trial, including variation statistics within each plot.

Bringing Valuable Research to Farmers and Agronomists

The goal is always for technology to help Frontier Farming Systems attract more funding and more projects in the future, Moodie said.

With a full season of experimentation and validation under his belt, Moodie says the next step is determining how the new insights he can provide to his clients will help Frontier Farming Systems surpass their competition.

In the first full year of SlantRange aerial phenotyping, Moodie said he loved having technology that makes it easy to fly trial sites several times throughout the year. After every flight, Frontier receives actual outputs at the end of the day, and the calibrated time histories make it easy for him to spot trends.

SlantRange’s visualization tools also make it easy to accomplish another of Moodie’s goals — communicating results to the farmers he serves.

In previous years, Frontier relied on field days to communicate results. During field days, 50 farmers would come on a specific day and walk the fields to look at the trial results.

SlantRange is part of a larger immersive technology play that will make it easier for Frontier Farming Systems to bring research to the farmers, instead of the other way around.

With herbicide trials, for example, the combination of high-resolution imagery and advanced analytics made it easy for Moodie to convey the slight differences in crop health from trial to trial. The full-resolution orthomosaics gave him imagery he could use in presentations to his clients at the end of the season — and the software gave him the hard data to quantify and visualize the differences.

“Everyone in the world is so much busier these days, including farmers,” he said. “So we’re looking for ways to actually bring the research to them.”

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