BIG data generates big talk but so far, little change to the operation of farm enterprises. But now savvy producers are quietly hatching plans to generate profits.
Data captured through networks of sensors and high-tech equipment – in soils, crops, for weather and so on, offer obvious benefits. Marketing, logistics and supply middlemen can harness farm data to improve accuracy of demand forecast accuracy and operational efficiency.
Farmers could also cash-in with efficient precision agriculture practices, but the data capture equipment is expensive and uptake has been slow.
Concerns remain over data ownership – who wants it and what they might do with it – and the wisdom of investing to benefit middlemen when grower returns are less certain. But answers may be on the way.
“Data cooperatives are the future,” according to Grain Producers Australia’s tech-savvy chairman Andrew Weidemann.
Neighbours could share infrastructure costs to reap a mutual benefit, he told the recent Agribusiness Outlook conference in Sydney.
Detailed data captured from crops or livestock would deliver better prices for producers that sell the provenance of their produce, and that climatic and soil data would add value to land assets.
“I’ve got 22 years of data ready to go. It’s a valuable asset as part of the land,” Mr Weidemann said.
“People want to know about provenance and a number of retail companies ares focused on the raw product.”
But crucially, who funds the the data capture and who owns the information?, he asked.
Victoria’s farmer-owned Birchip Cropping Group, based in the Wimmera and Mallee districts, is exploring the answer to this question. The group has 40 farmers who have bought weather stations that will be interconnected to upload data to a single, shared source.
BCG chief executive Chris Sounness said the project represented a first step in a long and uncertain journey.
How will existing legal frameworks respond to the new challenge of sharing proprietary information? Is there enough value to justify farmers’ devoting time and money to curate data? And can outside cash be tempted to support the co-op?
BCG, as a farmer-owned entity, has a natural advantage in pioneering the shared system, Mr Sounness said.
“It is a trusted entity for farmers to aggregate their information in. We want to know if businesses are willing to invest,” he said.
And despite the poor rural and regional internet services, BCG is eyeing another boon.
“Connectivity will always be a challenge, but there is a heap of emerging technologies coming online and the costs are falling all the time.”
Provenance pays for producers
GRAIN Producers Australia chairman Andrew Weidemann has been billed as the face of Crown Lager. But he isn’t the marketing pitch for Carlton United Breweries – it’s the provenance of his product.
“Australia boasts some truly impressive barley farms”: Crown Lager’s website promotes the quality of its raw ingredient, alongside photos of Mr Weidemann and the frosty product.
“We impose extremely stringent specifications for malting barley (only select growers) are qualified to supply the grade needed for our premium beer.”
Mr Weidemann uses Paddock Action Manager software to verify the bona fides of his crop so the buyer can offer “traceability back to the farm through the barcode”.
Data capture for indexed insurance
THE developing indexed agricultural insurance market will benefit from increased data capture, University of Sydney visiting fellow Jay Horton told the recent Agribusiness Outlook conference.
Index insurance pays out against predetermined index such as measured rainfall levels, minimum or maximum temperatures and so on.
Sensory technology and data capture will increase the range of climatic measurements and insurance indexes available, to the benefit of farmers and agribusiness, Mr Horton said.
Indexed insurance is transparent, requires no risk assessment, uses objective data and allows claims to be swiftly settled, he said.
Australian agriculture’s risk management is incomplete, Mr Horton said.
Our cropping sector grapples with the second most volatile output in the world and the livestock sector is the fifth globally. He encouraged a forum of agribusiness leaders to invest in data capture, which feeds indexed products.
“Agribusinesses up and down the chain need to consider indexed products as a means of managing their risk exposure and remote sensing technologies are behind these insurance products.”
Ag White Paper provides potential
DEVELOPMENT of local data co-operatives between producers who team up to share capital expenditure costs of technology infrastructure (see story page right) may benefit from a pilot program on offer under the federal government’s future policy directive, the Agriculture White Paper.
A two year trial, backed with $14 million, is designed to provide the ways and means for farmers to establish co-operatives.
Government will produce its own guides and fund expert advisors to directly assist farmers establish business models and negotiate regulations.
GPA chairman Andrew Weidemann identified the initiative as an exciting opportunity to trial local groups sharing on farm connections and data.