THE stockpile of performance and production data that farmers have been accumulating over the years will become an increasingly valuable resource as agriculture moves to meet the demands of a more sustainably-conscious world, according to DataFarming managing director, Tim Neale.
Speaking on a panel session at the AgTech21 forum in Central Queensland last week, Mr Neale said consumers and global markets were increasingly calling upon agriculture to demonstrate its sustainability credentials.
Countries were raising their minimum standards for the importation of agricultural products and were requiring higher levels of certification – and that’s where the data that farmers had been collecting had a role to play.
“I’m doing work with the Australian Oilseeds Federation in trying to meet the ICC standards. That’s the minimum requirement to get canola into Europe. Now they are telling me that every product that feeds the supply chain also needs to be certified,” he said.
“It all relies on data. At the moment you can still sign some stat decs, but I fear that is going to change very quickly. People won’t be relying on signed documents anymore, it will be ‘show me the money’.
“What we have to do as an industry is rapidly get the technology to automate that process. Unless we rapidly get the data automated it will be an absolute nightmare to comply. We have to look for tools in Australia to complete the compliance work.”
Fellow panellist and Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries general manager for crop and food science, Chris Downs, who works to support the development and commercialisation of agri-food innovations, said sustainability was becoming a key part of any investment proposal.
“The focus of the investments we will be making will be around productivity and profitability. But sustainability and the environment credentials that the market is increasingly requiring, and the data that underpins that, is going to have to be a core part of the way we configure our priorities and investment going forward. The market requires it,” he said.
Lifting agtech adoption rates
Mr Neale said while farmers had been building up massive resources of data, their adoption of agtech systems that utilised that data to improve farm performance and make life easier was still relatively low.
He said agtech investment in Australia, on a per capita basis, was only one-twentieth that of the United States.
“Too often we have blamed growers for the problems of not adopting. We are completely looking in the wrong place. The reason that adoption hasn’t happened is the technology suppliers,” he said.
“There are only about 120,000 farmers in Australia. The problem we have in agriculture is that the lack of people has meant we have built fairly substandard technology which actually causes it to be dis-adopted.
“If we got our act together early on in the piece and got investment in this space to build proper technology so that it doesn’t fail on farm, it’s simple and it works together, we would be in a different place.
“I blame the technology suppliers – and I’m one of them – for not delivering simple, effective, low-barrier-to-entry solutions. That’s the problem, it is not the willingness of the grower to adopt. But we need investment to do that otherwise there are just not enough people to pay for it.”
No better time than now
When it comes to deciding when to take up agtech, Mr Neale said there was no better time than “now”. It has always been “now”.
“People used to ask me when is the best time to buy autosteer? I said right now. It was expensive but now was the right time. People bought autosteer for $125,000 a unit and still made it pay. It is now $20,000 a unit. So, I don’t think there is any better time than “now”,” he said.
“The demand I’m seeing in my business for data coming out of farms that unlock the ‘digital farm gate’ needs to happen now. We need to start building a database of all your information because people are going to start asking for it. If you don’t deliver it then they are not going to accept your product. That is the way the world is going.
“In reality, people are going to want to know more and if we don’t start collecting that information you might get left behind.”
Making life easier
Mr Neale said the best starting point for people making the move into agtech was to identify a problem they needed to solve and the technology that was going to suit that problem.
“There is no one-size fits all. Each farm is different, each paddock is different, each person is different and there are different stages of the journey. The key is understanding this is a journey, it is not an end-point,” he said.
“You can start wherever you like. People think there is a magical, golden end of agtech, but it is really about the journey. So, get started because you are going to get value.”
When it comes to deciding when to take up agtech…..there is no better time than “now”. It has always been “now”.
Mr Neale said there were many reasons to adopt agtech beyond the economics and return on investment.
“It is not all about the money. It is about ‘does it make my life easier?’, ‘does it save me time?’, ‘am I being more efficient?’,” he said.
“I think focussing on economics is a bit false because a lot of people adopted early technology not on money, they adopted it on making life easier.”
Engage the right support
Fellow panellist and Yabby Sensors managing director, Steve Dudgeon, advised producers to only invest in agtech systems that were going to “save you money, make you money and make your life safer”.
“Figure out what you want to do, what your problems are, and then find a collaborative group or a front-end person who have the knowledge to solve the problem for you,” he said.
“Don’t just rush in and buy from whoever advertises the most on Twitter or Facebook. Do your research. It is in the public realm.
“There are some really good Australian companies. Most are startups that have been developed in the last five or six years. Make sure you invest in the right people behind the products who can solve your problems.
“Go and find a trusted advisor who can help you because it is complicated if you are starting. Once you dip your toe into the water it is not as complicated as you think, but you need someone to clarify things at the beginning.”
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