Two of Edith Cowan University’s leading researchers believe a 20-year agreement signed with a South West shire will be a nucleus for innovative study across many sectors, including aged care. The university and the Shire of Boyup Brook officially launched a memorandum of understanding last week which will cement the Rylington Park Institute for Agricultural Training and Research as a core tertiary research centre. ECU digital futures researcher Tony Marceddo and natural and built environments researcher and professor of employment and industry Kerry Brown said at the launch the facility could have a big effect on multiple fields. Professor Brown said her department’s research looked at how communities interacted with the natural environment, encompassing climate change, agriculture and resources, engineering, regional economic development and business research. “As we do the research projects, we can put our students on to those projects to be able to learn about research, but also to roll out research in a way that gives them practical experience on a farm,” she said. “For us, it’s a living laboratory and it’s not just a laboratory, it’s actually a working farm.” She said previous agricultural research meant lecturers and students collected data across different farming properties. “We can collect valuable data from that experience, but the experience of having a farm over a long period of time — of 20 years of the MOU — allows us to monitor in place through geographical systems and spatial systems that are in one area. “That is absolutely invaluable; it’s priceless to know that you have a stable research area over 20 years in one place.” ECU students have already set up sensor network around the farm — or virtual fencing — which they are already monitoring. Mr Marceddo said this type of research into data science, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, orbital robotics, cybersecurity and blockchain technology would have practical agricultural applications that could help other sectors. “We can use robotics and autonomous systems to look at how you can automate a farm, you may want to use blockchain technology in cybersecurity to look at provenance,” he said. “And in taking it through the logistics chain, to how it’s sold in the shopfront, to be able to track everything back to the day it was picked, or when the sheep was sheared, or the meat was taken to the abattoirs.” He said this research would have applications across sectors including e-health and aged care. “A lot of the farming community is ageing and it’s hard to attract younger people,” he said. “The problems that causes in our smaller communities — how can we use digital technology to be better servicing the community.” He said the virtual fencing findings could be applied to home sensors and back-to-base monitoring that could be used to tell practitioners about early warning signs of dementia or other illnesses. “So that fits in that sort of e-health space, so you can go anywhere,” he said.