Australia’s prosperity has long been intertwined with agriculture. Australia’s agricultural, fishery, and forestry sectors successfully produce a wide range of food and fibre goods for the country and their trading partners. The prosperity of Australian agriculture has always been significantly influenced by innovation—doing new and different things. As long as they are informed of and comprehend the benefits of new and alternative techniques, Australian farmers, fishers, and foresters are genuinely interested in implementing them.
In order to increase productivity and profitability and position Australia as a leader in producing food and fibre, stakeholders throughout the agriculture value chain are constantly improving techniques.
In the past, distinctive climatic conditions and varied challenges have led to the creation of devices, technologies and solutions that didn’t just resolve local issues but also spread the innovation to other parts of the world to benefit farming practices globally. It is a rich tradition that has produced numerous technical innovations, but we have distilled them down to a showcase of the creations that have had the most significant influence on farmers both domestically and abroad.
Invented by Headlie Taylor, the contraption revolutionised grain harvesting. A self-taught engineer, he was the first to introduce the commercially produced auto header. Despite the fact that standing wheat could already be stripped of its grain by machines, Taylor’s design allowed farmers to harvest crops that had been blown over by storms. He planned to use a long-fingered comb equipped with reciprocating knives to lift the damaged wheat, cut the stalks off, and feed it up an elevator to a thresher. It is a technique that almost all modern combined harvesters use. In 1915, three of his innovative machines were produced under licence, sparking a boom that led to Headlie being acknowledged as Australia’s greatest ag technology innovator. Taylor has an entire museum dedicated to him at Henty.
Australian farmers had been removing grain from wheat stalks since the middle of the 19th century, well before Headlie’s harvester. John Ridley, an English immigrant who settled in South Australia, began farming wheat in 1839 and created the stripper harvester. He fashioned a device that strips grain from a crop and collects it in a hopper while being pulled by two horses. The Ridley Stripper gained popularity quickly and brought its creator a rich living because of a labour shortage in the state at the time and the fact that it kept the produce dry making it suitable for an excellent export grade. With his invention, the miller and wheat farmer was able to thresh over 70 hectares of crop in just a week. The device, operable by a horse-drawn cart, consisted of a rotating beater that sat behind a comb that lifted the heads of the wheat. The South Australian Agricultural and Horticultural Society acknowledged Mr Ridley’s accomplishment and gave him a prize worth £10. Mr Ridley’s invention sparked the modern high-tech grains industry.
In the timeline of the development of the combine harvester, Hugh Victor McKay, who designed a machine that could successfully harvest, thresh, and winnow wheat, is ideally positioned between Ridley and Taylor. The Drummartin youngster, about 19 at the time, read about the development of combine harvesters in the US while working on his family’s farm. He put a few concepts together and created the Sunshine Harvester in 1885. He wasn’t alone in this. A similar idea was introduced that year by James Morrow, who earned a government award for it. However, McKay had greater business judgement, and his machine became a commercial success.
At shearing time, sheep stations were whirlwinds of activity, with up to 20 men using hand shears to remove the wool from the backs of about 50,000 sheep. The sheep were frequently poked and sliced with razor-sharp, scissor-like shears. It was tedious work and not very enjoyable. A pastoralist on a sheep station near Sydney, Frederick Wolseley, got tired of using handheld clippers to trim thousands of sheep. Thus, he created the first set of automated shearing clippers, completely changing the face wool industry. Frederick saved the day by cutting the wool using blades positioned above a comb that moved side to side. Power was initially generated by a shaft that stretched the length of the shearing shed and was turned by a horse gin attached to a belt and pulley. A length of sheep gut was rotated at 1600 rpm inside a leather pipe that led the shears by a wheel at each shearing bay. Shearers could mow through more than ever before, resulting in far better-quality fleeces being shorn from the backs of much happier sheep.
In the mid-19th century, farmers would struggle to push a plough through a terrain cleared of stubby eucalypts in south NSW, South Australia. The furrow ploughs of the time could not withstand these roots left in the ground since they were gnarled, rock-hard, and challenging to move. Money was offered to anyone who could devise a successful method of removing the stumps, although this had only modest success. Thinking outside the box, Richard Bowyer Smith created a plough in 1876 that could skip over stumps and then re-engage the ground. The section of the plough blade hinging behind the chisel rode over the stump while being forced back into the ground with weights. Thus, the Stump-Jump Plough, Smith’s innovation, revolutionised crop farming on uneven terrain and is today regarded as one of the most significant agricultural discoveries of all time.
Australian broadacre farmers spend about $3.23 billion battling weeds because the herbicides they employ to do so are pricey and lose their potency over time. Over the years, many alternatives to chemical treatment have been tried, but a farmer in Western Australia developed a technique that is attracting attention from around the world. By smashing weed seeds as they leave the combine harvester, Ray Harrington prevented 95% of them from sprouting. The chaff that contains seeds is typically blasted out the back of the harvester and leaves a path of potential new weeds. Harrington altered it to include a rotating cage mill, crushing the seeds as they move out of the chaff. Called the Harrington Seed Destructor, the machine was originally towed behind the harvester and later modified to be installed on the device. The invention has the potential to save farmers millions of dollars and therefore is attracting interest from the US and Canada, too.
Australians are innovative so it’s no surprise that this list could grow in the coming years, especially now that there’s a greater need for sustainable and eco-friendly materials.