SMART INNOVATION: Stephen Xu (left) has invented a new way for plants to communicate with farmers.
SMART INNOVATION: Stephen Xu (left) has invented a new way for plants to communicate with farmers.

EXCLUSIVE: How stressed out plants can send farmers SMS

A BUNDABERG-BASED researcher developing a way for stressed plants to be able to send a text when they need attention has been awarded Palaszczuk Government Advance Queensland Research Fellowship funding.

Minister for Innovation, Science and the Digital Economy Leeanne Enoch said the government's $300,000 funding will enable Dr Stephen Xu to create a simple but smart system that has great appeal for Queensland's farmers - who have always welcomed clever innovation.

"The Research Fellowship funding for CQUniversity Australia's Dr Xu is a step towards low-cost technology that could be widely used by farmers across many crops and regions," Ms Enoch said.

"Horticulture is Queensland's second largest primary industry, and there are real challenges in adapting off-the-shelf products to innovate the booming greenhouse production systems around the state."

"Because our climate is different to that of the southern states - where farmers can often make do with products built for northern hemisphere conditions - we often need to develop our own smart tools and solutions for doing things.

"This project is creating a high-tech system that is still low-cost enough to be attractive to farmers wanting the advantages of cloud-based computing services without being locked into expensive systems and services that don't talk to each other."

Dr Xu said a 'lot of effort' has already gone into integrating low-cost sensors into the prototype system - with testing in a Department of Agriculture and Fisheries greenhouse in the Burdekin using recycled mobile phones for crop monitoring.

"I believe an integration of conventional knowledge and cutting-edge information technologies - like sensors, mobile network, the internet of things, cloud information platforms, and big data processing - will be the future of agriculture," he said.

"Deployment of state-of-art information technologies will stimulate the agriculture sector to enter an 'information intensive' era in the next a few decades."

Dr Xu said he aimed to deliver a deployable system to Perfection Fresh Australia in 18 months.

"The model has application for many other crops and agricultural situations," Dr Xu said.

"After this project has been completed, I will be considering the direction of future projects, such as building a generic system that can be broadly adopted in other crops and regions".

Member for Bundaberg Leanne Donaldson welcomed news Dr Xu was developing a prototype system using Perfection Fresh Australia's protected cropping production facilities in the region.

Ms Donaldson said Dr Xu was working with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries on the smart system that connects a range of sensors and information sources to test soil moisture, air temperature, plant water consumption and crop imaging.

She said the system sends a text message to alert farmers if something goes wrong.

"There are some smart systems available for broad acreage farms, but they are often expensive so it's hard for farmers to deploy many of them," she said.

"Dr Xu is trying to come up with a solution that is not only cheaper, but can also integrate a wide range of data from different information platforms which is also very important for farmers".

For more information about the fellowships visit the Advance Queensland website at