DRONE DEMO: A live drone flight was held to educate guests on new technology used in precision agriculture and supporting research across the industry.
DRONE DEMO: A live drone flight was held to educate guests on new technology used in precision agriculture and supporting research across the industry. Amber Gibson

Primary Industries puts history on show

ONE of the oldest institutes and earliest research stations for regional agriculture, fisheries and food security across the state, celebrated its 125th birthday on Saturday.

The Department of Primary Industries invited guests to its Wollongbar centre to learn about discoveries made since 1894.

NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said the centre had been "absolutely crucial” in building a vibrant and robust agricultural industry.

Key areas of research have included the cattle tick program, commercial and recreational fishing breakthroughs and essential-oil testing.

Mr Marshall said glasshouses worth $1.5 million being built would enhance research for the blueberry and macadamia nut industries.

"(These are) to help those producers in our region be as strong as possible but also to get the maximum yield and maximum profitability,” he said.

Mr Marshall said this type of investment and access to technology would enable research to continue for another 125 years.

Drones had become a "huge” part of agriculture, particularly for broad scale cropping, he said.

"It's one of the big reasons for the first time in decades that we are seeing a lot more younger people get involved in agriculture, because now it is becoming more of a science and there is a lot more technology involved,” he said.

At the event, a crowd gathered to watch a drone flight demonstration using the M600 heavy-life hexacopter.

"Farmers can look at all sorts of images not just the physical pictures but they can do geothermal mapping, moisture profile in the spot and on the plants, (and) the drones have the ability with the software to spot weeds,” Mr Marshall said.

There are 100 staff members involved in research across the sector.

Many former employees attended to reminisce about their contributions.

Research scientist Ian Southwell, who worked with the company from 1983 to 2005, in the plant chemistry area said there "are big differences from when I started”.

Dr Southwell managed a quality-control lab specialising in essential oils such as tea tree oil, sandalwood, lavender, peppermint, fennel, lemon myrtle, lavender and eucalyptus.

"We developed a good test which enabled you to know whether you had the right commercial variety (of tea tree oil) for commercially planting into a plantation.” he said.

"It has helped farmers all over the state in all different areas,” he said.



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