A NSW farmer with a clever way to increase crop yields has been honoured at Australia's local Nobel gala

Cicada InnovationsNobel gala night at Cicada Innovations
  • Husband and wife farmers David and Wendy Finlay won the Up and Coming Award at the annual Cicada Innovations Nobel Gala in Sydney.
  • They won for their method of planting seeds, doing away with heavy machinery and increasing yields.
  • Biomedical company Trimph and Prospection, a health insights company, also won awards.

A farming couple who found a way to replace heavy machinery and use science to determine the best depth to plan seeds was a winner in Australia’s annual Nobel Awards ceremony run by deep tech incubator Cicada Innovations.

The incubator, owned by the ANU, University of Sydney, University of NSW, and UTS, runs an annual event in Sydney with links to the official Swedish Nobel gala held on the same date in the Stockholm Town Hall.

Husband and wife team David and Wendy Finlay won the Up and Coming Award for Moisture Planting Technologies, an agrifoodtech based outside West Wyalong in NSW that senses soil moisture levels and plants seeds at an optimal depth.

“The goal is to boost yield while saving time and energy. With the sensors within our planter we can optimise seeding depth to place every seed in the best possible spot for germination,” says David Finlay.

“Not all soil conditions are the same – not on the same farm or even within the same paddock. Now when a farmer decides to plant he grabs a shovel or something slightly fancier to determine the moisture profile, spends hours manually setting his planter – then he just goes and plants.”

The problem arises when the moisture profile or depth changes.

Moisture Planting Technologies came about to solve one farmer’s problem.

“He had a huge 600 horsepower tractor and 25 metre planter and it kept breaking down,” David says.

“We thought — why use all that power breaking up the soil when you can just slap a computer and a sensor on it and plant at the correct depth in the first place.

“Conventional farming and planting involves massive tractors dragging tonnes of steel through the ground to drop seeds. We are being smart about it and getting a better yield.’”

David Finlay is a graduate of Cicada’s GrowLab, a division within the deep-tech innovation hub.

“The future is electric autonomous tractors with our planters attached,” he says.

“We can be the Tesla of farming -– once we understand the root causes of problems farmers face, we can do it smarter and quicker with less energy.”

He says the system can get a 5% to 10% increase in yields.

The next challenge is backing and funding.

“What we are doing -– feeding people — is not seen as sexy,” he says. “We are not building the next Uber or Airbnb, or even an app for a fintech.”

The other two winners announced at the Cicada Nobel Gala:

Vision Award
Trimph is a biomedical company which has developed injectable, synthetic scaffolds able to regenerate bone, cartilage and connective tissues.

The firm has a robust Intellectual Property portfolio including a patent in the US and Europe as well as multiple international patent applications. (Dr Ali Fathi is Founder & Director and Terence Abrams is Chief Operating Officer)

Tenacity Award
Prospection is a leading health insights company with commercial, technical and clinical capabilities.

The firm’s 30-plus employees work with more than 50 healthcare clients to provide quality and innovative solutions for government and agencies, pharma and device manufacturers, hospitals, researchers and clinicians, patient and disease support organisations.

The Cicada Nobel Gala is run with permission by the official Nobel Committee in Sweden.

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