TOOWOOMBA’S Agtech and Logistics Hub threw its gates open yesterday to host the OpenGround Demo Day for innovators to share ideas and network for the betterment of agriculture through improved plant health.
Sponsored by Meat and Livestock Australia, the event brought together around 150 specialists representing companies seen as having the potential to boost production, profitability and sustainability in the red meat industry.
The OpenGround program was run by the Agtech and Logistics Hub in conjunction with MLA.
In his address to the gathering, MLA program director Allan Peake said the day was part of MLA’s aim to boost adoption of agtech to help producers better manage pastures, the source of 95 percent of Australia’s red meat, and soils.
“We hear a lot about feedlots, but at the end of the day, only 5pc comes from feedlots,” Dr Peake said.
He said the filling of seasonal feed gaps through supplements such as grain rations, or the establishment of perennial pasture, were potential boosters for grassfed productivity, but work needed to be done on fostering adoption as well as developing solutions.
Dr Peake said the move to establish new pastures came with a risk to the producer in lost time and capital if they failed.
Therefore, making pasture establishment a more reliable venture was “ a very, very high priority” for MLA, as was promoting soil health to support healthy pastures.
“We’re trying to fund more and more research to help producers keep their soil in good condition.”
Dr Peake said some high-rainfall zones have a tenfold difference in stocking rates, which indicated a vast variability in feedbase and livestock management.
In Queensland, Dr Peake said only 1pc of land deemed suitable to grow leucaena was sown to the supplementary fodder source, an example that more professional advisors and local demonstration sites could encourage uptake of a proven system.
“The lack of co-design with producers is a significant issue.”
“If producers help define questions and help design solutions, adoption will happen.”
In introducing the day, Agtech and Logistics Hub manager Owen Williams told the gathering that agtech did not have to be digital, but that digital connectivity remained “the biggest limiter” of innovation adoption in agriculture.
“Agtech is any innovation making a positive impact on agriculture,” Mr Williams said.
“We work with researchers that have done the research and continue validate it…and get to that really important stage of commercialisation.”
“We’re seeking farmer-relevant solutions that have the ability to transform crop and pasture management.”
Runs on the board
Exhibitors at the Demo Day included Goondiwindi-based company InFarm, Toowoomba’s DataFarming, and Brisbane-based PLF Australia.
InFarm was founded in 2017 to handle large amounts of data when a cloud service for storing it was not available.
InFarm works with cropping, livestock and mixed-farming enterprises, and managing director Jerome Leray said the business was already helping producers make more informed decisions.
“That can be around fertiliser, herbicide or fungicide applications, or water flows on farm,” Mr Leray said.
DataFarming puts enhanced satellite imagery in the hands of growers to help them better manage crops and land use, and managing director Tim Neale said interest was growing in the platform as a gauge of pasture biomass.
“Mixed farmers make up 70pc of our customers, and from corporates particularly we’re seeing a big push in how to better manage those mixed-farming systems,” Mr Neale said.
DataFarming already has a multitude of ground-truthing points across New Zealand, where intensive dairying is a big user of the platform, and Australia.
Working with companies like Hone, also part of the Demo Day, Mr Neale said DataFarming was keen to broaden the offering of its images to make DataFarming even more useful to producers.
“We want to do quality as well as quantity.”
Mr Neale said some corporate farmers were now cropping paddocks as big as 2000-3000ha.
“What we offer enables problems to be picked up early, no matter what the size of the paddock is.”
Precision Livestock Farming Australia managing director Paul Stapleton started his business in Emerald in 2018 working with cattle producers.
His client base has since expanded beyond Central Qld, and the company is involved in the NSW Department of Primary Industries’ Farms of the Future project.
“My first conversation with a client is around their kitchen table…about what devices they need to improve their operations,” Mr Stapleton said.
On behalf of the client, he then acquires and installs the equipment used to automate tasks such as monitoring water levels, soil moisture, or stock movements through long-range radar connected to a 3G or newer network.
“We monitor every farm and every device for all of our clients.”
He said the benefit to clients lies in significant saving of time and resources for a capital outlay and service fee which quickly recoups itself.
“For example, one client north of Emerald was checking water on four half-days a week; that’s now down to one half-day a week.”
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