Students and industry partner for organic farmers

Image credit: Design Factory Melbourne

Australian students have partnered with a Japanese manufacturer, the Kyoto Institute of Technology, the SUGAR Network, and Design Factory Melbourne to develop a soil supplement spreader for organic farms.

Collaborating with manufacturers and designers from New Zealand and Japan, the students from Swinburne Institute of Technology developed a product for the transport, spreading and dispensing of compost which can occur in a single action.

Named Nu-tan, the spreader limits the time and physical labour needed for soil bed preparation, particularly for the organic farming industry which avoids industrial solutions to crop health.

The project was set by the Japanese manufacturer, Yanmar, which asked students to research user requirements, innovate the product design, and provide a singular user experience.

Demonstrating the nature of potential industry and research collaboration, the partnership developed a prototype specifically targeted towards an otherwise unsatisfied niche.

“There is a lack of agricultural machinery suited to small scale organic farming. It’s very labour intensive and time consuming. Nu-tan addresses this gap in the market. No two organic farms are the same. Nu-tan adjusts to farmers’ needs and specific farm configurations, so farmers don’t have to change their farm to suit the tool. It also allows farmers to move and spread heavy loads easily,” said student Melanie Calleja.

The project was facilitated by Sugar, which describes itself as a global network bringing together students, universities, and companies, focussing on human-centred design. In 2018, Sugar co-facilitated 31 projects.

Part of the success of the project was the deep and ongoing interaction between the students and the end users, farmers. The device was tested and developed at organic farms, which led to the unique aspects of the product’s design.

“The challenge was to create a solution for small scale organic farmers of ground grown product that keeps them connected to their crops. We wanted to reduce physical labour and maximise output for organic farmers by making soil preparation efficient and enjoyable,” said student Melanie Phillips.