New agricultural technology on the rise in Australia

Over the past ten years, there has been rapid adoption of ‘smart farming’ technologies in Australia. Now, a new generation of agricultural technology (agtech) is hitting the market. Australia has been a key player in developing a significant amount of the new technology, thanks to an exciting mix of professionals including scientists, start-ups, young entrepreneurs, agtech companies and farmers themselves.

The new technology includes large tractors that can adjust their operations autonomously to tracking software for livestock management. Also, the integration of drones, sensors, and satellite imagery to monitor and record everything from soil levels and crop growth rates, to animal locations, movements, and pasture availability.

Last year, the AgriFuture’s Research and Development group estimated a deal flow of $90 million into the new Australian ventures and technology, up from $30 million in 2017. The federal government has earmarked the industry as having significant growth prospects and export potential.

Sarah Nolet, a partner in Tenacious Ventures and a founding member of the Nascent Australian Agritech Association, forecasts exponential growth in both the availability of new technologies, as well as interest from local and global investors.

“One of the big thematics we are seeing in agritech is a move away from technology tied to the industrial era of big equipment, big tractors and big-scale agriculture, to what we call ‘digitally native Ag’,” Notel states.

“Digitally native ag is about a fundamental shift in how farming systems work, where digital technology and data is embedded in everything we do to help farmers make better, more informed decisions, and the overall imperative is on a low-carbon future, lower inputs, smaller environmental footprint and greater sustainability.”

Tim Hunt, Rabobank’s director of research and technology, suggests that many producers are excited to promote the innovation and installation of these technologies, but too often the different software systems cannot be integrated with each other to deliver the most efficient on-farm productivity.

“We have leading-edge farmers and leading-edge technology but now there is just so much agtech out there, together with larger farms, more regulations and consumers wanting greater supply chain traceability, the intellectual power to optimise many on-farm decisions has now moved beyond the human capacity of any farmer,” Hunt reports. “Technology, in the form of data analytics and intelligence, will now have to play a much more central role.”

Nathan Simpson, a progressive central NSW lamb producer, knows exactly what Hunt is talking about.

Together with his brother Kieran, he runs a 3850-ha property near Dubbo called Binginbar Farms.

Simpson reports that three years ago, he was using eight different monitoring devices, farm management software programs and automated agritech systems to run the Binginbar farms. With so many devices, Simpson felt swamped by the data and technology without any efficiency gains managing livestock productivity, costs, or his own time.

Derrick Thompson, senior manager (key accounts and business development) at Hitachi Australia, visited the farm to address the issue. The primary issue for Hitachi was to integrate the third-party software systems with each other. Drones and satellite imagery were used to estimate the availability of biomass in feed crops and pastures. Frost sensors and stock theft cameras were also installed so Simpson could gather more data without increasing his workload.

“The results are clear,” says Nathan Simpson. “Everywhere we look we see more benefits. Now we have Hitachi’s single command centre, all the information is at our fingertips and it is speeding up decision-making on the farm, highlighting really important differences between individual lambs, improving our animal welfare and health outcomes, and our supply chain traceability.

“Most importantly, it is giving me more time to think about Binginbar’s long-term objectives and plans, not less.”

Simpson reports that through using his new accumulated data analysis systems, his lamb selection and farm management strategies are improving rapidly.

Thomsen reports that Hitachi’s technology has significantly improved the quality and quantity of Binginbar farms, demonstrating the power of data and digital technology to transform agricultural production in Australia.

“What most farmers need to know is how to manage, plan and predict for the variables they get on farm, whether it is the growth rate of lambs, meat quality, crop yields or pasture growth; that’s what our underlying data platform and capability that digitally links and analyses all the hardware, software and app data together can do,” Thompson says.

“Usually, the benefits are quick, and it will pay for itself in a season or two; invariably we find the system ends up being used quite differently from the way it was first planned, solves complex problems the farmer hadn’t even identified as an issue at the start and always changes completely the way the farm is run and managed for the better.”

Source: The Australian | Why agtech is the hot new investment

23 December 2020

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