agriculture, agtech, food

Digital farming and its place in Australia

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Credit: Lima Pix

Agtech hardly made headline news in Australia a few years ago. We were too busy selling off farms, food manufacturers and processors to global investors who saw the potential of food security through Australian soils.

But agtech, digital farming or digital agriculture Australia is interesting for a number of reasons. Farmers are under pressure to keep their businesses running and not ready to put further investments into changing their operations. Australia is highly reliant on seasonal workers for harvesting. Instead of thinking about technologies to replace manual labour, we are obsessed with looking for more seasonal workers on working holiday visas or our neighbouring Pacific Islands. Makoto Koike’s story on how he automated the sorting of cucumbers using machine learning for his farm in Japan shows how technology reduces our need for farm work and addresses this important issue of food aesthetics in the retail food industry.

We need to be bold and invest in digital agriculture Australia. Projects like Sense-T gives me hope that a cross-disciplinary approach towards addressing agricultural issues would yield confidence from producers to take digital farming seriously. This is especially when agriculture has the potential to be Australia’s next $100 billion industry but yet remains underinvested as investors have a short-term view on agricultural investments and hence, digital farming in Australia has yet to realise its full potential.

While Australia’s agricultural GDP is small compared to the rest of the world, we have lots of global investors who want a slice of our food production, processing and manufacturing to export to the world. We are already seeing an increase in interest in farm sales coming from institutional and offshore investors.

At an Agtech meetup organised by SproutX, one of the themes that came through was how agtech had the potential to succeed in Australia if an idea demonstrated the potential to scale. I was really impressed by the story of The Yield who received significant Series A funding for their remote sensing solution – an Australian solution with a global potential to scale that we will hear much more about.

The launch of the Food Agility CRC is another positive step towards acknowledging that digital transformation can occur through the food value chain. Whether its using technology to help producers understand pricing conditions to reducing food waste through IoT, it is promising to see we are now wearing the commercialisation lens of research over the scientific lens of genetics/climate.

For agtech to go further, we need to close the gaps from increasing government in agriculture. Making our mobile and internet infrastructure more reliable in regional Australia is another priority to support remote sensing, access to data and cloud-driven technologies. Getting a younger generation interested in seeing farming as a career guarantees our talent base. Finally, helping farmers receive a fair price on produce would make agtech a more attractive investment proposition.

We’re just about to embark on an impressive journey to showcase Australia’s digital farm and its going to lead us somewhere finally.

Postscript 8 April 2018: I’m really impressed with the list of new projects with SproutX’s incubation. Technology led – mobile, IoT, data, remote sensing – all the wonderful things related to digital farming. Projects driven by Agrifutures Australia such as the Farmer Exchange for online collaboration, knowledge sharing and networking between producers could potentially be a driving force for digital farming to flourish.

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