Nuffield Australia research has shown that technology may not necessarily be the answer to help labour shortages in Australian agriculture.
Instead, practical training that is effective, as well as competent staff may be more crucial than technological investments.
The research, authored by Nuffield scholar Charles Downie, Gretna, Tasmania, has found farm business managers and senior staff on farms often lacked the capacity to teach new employees, and the importance of doing so was underappreciated.
He said people looking for permanent jobs in agriculture are more likely to have no tertiary education and lack the skills to operate complex equipment and technology.
"Agtech is often seen as a potential solution to some of the labour challenges in agriculture, however this is not entirely accurate," Mr Downie said.
"Technology is great at taking over the simple, repetitive tasks, but often fails at the complex tasks. By introducing more technology, agricultural businesses can become more complicated."
Mr Downie applied for a Nuffield scholarship to research ways to attract highly skilled staff after he struggled to find skilled workers for his own farm and spoke to a friend about his challenges.
"His response was that 'the staff you have are the staff you have - the technology needs to be better'," he said.
Mr Downie visited over 30 businesses in seven countries including the US, Canada and the Netherlands as part of his research.
He found that businesses could stagnate if there was no continued innovation and investment into staff training.
"Without competent staff we are constrained in our ability to make the most of that investment and grow our businesses," he said.
"Technology is one vital tool, but the capacity to teach and convey knowledge on how to operate effectively and efficiently is even more important."
The research also revealed the importance of defining essential information for new employees to increase productivity and that agribusinesses could have a competitive advantage if they can quickly move new employees from a net cost to a net benefit
He said during his research, he noticed businesses that upskilled staff effectively have a competitive advantage, as they can recruit from a wider range of candidates.
It contrasted with businesses that required skilled staff immediately.
"In conversations with farmers around the world, one of the most repeated comments was that it is difficult to find skilled staff," he said.
"Another frequent comment was that it's too expensive to train someone because they don't provide any benefit for months.
"As an employer, there should be a framework for teaching the critical knowledge within a business that minimises that unproductive time."
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