Innovation not new in Australian ag

OPINION: Agtech can help deliver the NFF's $100-billion target

Opinion
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Agtech can help deliver continued growth for the industry, says Sarah Nolet.

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Future Farmers Network's Sarah Nolet says adopting technologies that fail to solve problems and add value is not what agtech is about - farmers need to be involved.

Future Farmers Network's Sarah Nolet says adopting technologies that fail to solve problems and add value is not what agtech is about - farmers need to be involved.

AUSSIE farmers, supported by their research and extension systems, have created new technologies and farming systems since well before "agtech" was coined.

Examples range from GPS-guided tractors and new varieties, to raised beds and controlled traffic.

"Agtech" is a new phenomenon, characterised by the entrance of new players (startups and venture capitalists), new business models (software-as-a-service), and new technologies (robotics and machine learning).

If we can avoid the hype, there is huge potential for farming. Three big trends are driving agtech's growth.

First, technology has dropped in cost and increased performance, meaning even very complex technologies are accessible. You don't need billions of dollars or many years to bring products to market, so big companies are no longer the only source of innovation.

Second, shifting consumer preferences are putting new pressures on our food and fibre system, demanding healthy, safe, affordable food, and convenience, premium eating experiences, and confidence products are good for their families and the planet.

Big players in food and agriculture are now scrambling to partner with agtech startups.

And finally, agriculture is massive - it contributes over $40 billion annually to Australia's economy and is our fastest growing industry.

Investors love big markets, so too entrepreneurs.

Despite all the agtech activity, and potential, the industry can be frustrating for farmers. Products often seem (or in the worst cases, are) half-baked, and as startups push for dominance, the spread of similar products is confusing. This frustration with the "hype" is not to be understated or ignored.

Farmers work incredibly hard and face levels of uncertainty and constraint most non-farmers would find overwhelming.

There are three areas where agtech can deliver.

  • Rapid business model evolution. Agtech startups are bringing solutions to market that break down existing barriers, challenge old models and processes, and ultimately deliver lasting value to producers;
  • Rejuvenated regional communities. As farming continues to use more digital technology, new skills and jobs will be required to support farming systems. New technologies can keep rural and regional communities connected;
  • Producers as more than agtech customers. Agtech presents new ways for producers to be involved in innovation. Producers can be innovators, advisors, even investors.

Last year the National Farmer's Federation set to grow agriculture to a $100B industry by 2030. Technology and innovation are critical to achieving this.

If we are able to export our knowledge, innovations, and know-how in the form of agtech solutions that deliver real value, maybe we can leave $100B in the dust.

- Sarah Nolet, Future Farmers Network

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