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By Scott Mckinnon - Ag Tech Professional | Director Ag Institute Australia | Farmer
The last decade has certainly been action packed in the agriculture sector with many challenges. Several simmering industry issues came to the surface. The rallying of the vegan and anti-meat brigade, the debate on agriculture’s role in climate change from the bad guy polluters through to the good carbon sinkers, the emergence of regenerative agriculture as a new term of reference, and the back end of a 20 year drought across the country. On top of that you can throw in a few international issues on free trade and live export, and finally the breakdown of the Murray Basin plan, who would have ever thought the States and Feds could all agree on anything, except higher tax rates. It has been pretty dynamic! Hovering over the decade has been ag technology, the saviour of the industry! Depending what reference you read digital technology will deliver a 50% increase in productivity, create billions of dollars of additional revenue, even reverse climate change, however at the pointy end of farming it still can’t make it rain.
Early in the decade I made the switch from being a fringe player in agtech, to jumping on the bus with a vision to squeeze, mould and shape the industry ready for the technology boom. What has happened in the sector for our industry over the last decade, and what is sitting on the horizon for the 20’s?
What is in store for the 2020’s?
- Virtual Reality, Augmented reality and all it various reality siblings will become real tools in the farmer and advisors arsenal. On-farm use for machinery troubleshooting, agronomy tools, animal management will enable outside expertise to be in every farmers pocket. They will also be a great tool to engage the urban community an bring the farm to the city.
- IoT is here to stay and the technology behind it will mature very quickly. Some support technology such as LoRaWAN (think of SMS for paddock sensors), still require a level of technical proficiency to set up and configure. These and other hardware and communication systems will become more off the shelf and DIY very quickly and more a kin to setting up you new Smart TV. Service provision from local professionals will become common place, off the shelf items will become available locally, and sensors costs will drop as adoption increases.
- UAV’s in true or semi drone form will secure a position on farm. Removing the reliance on an operator and specialist data analyst, the automation of imagery and video capture across the farm will become common in high value crops. Think of the scenario where new satellite imagery is processed overnight and the machine learning tools identify an anomaly in the crop. At first light in the morning, the UAV, in drone mode, tracks off and scouts the specific area, sending data back to the analytics centre tools. When the farmer gets up and a morning coffee, an alert appears with the imagery and the diagnosis ready for action.
- Connectivity on farm will increase 1000 fold. This won’t be solely provided by a series of 5/6G towers provided by Telco's, it will be supplemented by individual network solutions. 'Out the box' farm connectivity options from private companies will complement existing networks and government infrastructure. Everyone in the industry knows each farm is different, and each farmer manages their operation differently, and as such, flexible connectivity solutions will evolve by crop, region, or combos of both.
- Start ups will become mature businesses. Some will be independent and grow, while others will be bought out or aggregated with each other. Corporate business will pick some up. They will also spin out some of their existing internal digital initiatives into true independent services, we all know corporate strategies change with time.
- The biggest change I see is in people and the workforce as the farm and industry become more digitised. There will be a strong emphasis on skills and capability and the development of regional expertise. While a 1800 hotline may work for Telco’s and software companies, farmers and their advisors want face to face support which will need to come locally. The industry should be planning for these roles now and start with changes to educational programs in regional areas and agricultural focused institutions. There is already a migration of non-agriculture experienced technicians into the sector, so on the other foot we will need to prepare for some tools around upskilling these people, knowledge and training on the agricultural sector.
As the millennium drought, hopefully very soon, finally runs out of steam and the lets us go, the industry will be on the crest of the digital wave and the technology world will swarm around us. It is an evolution rather than revolution, however it is here and it is happening. It will be exciting to see what becomes the next big mover and I would be happy to hear your thoughts. Maybe I will run a book and get back to you in 2029 - happy new year!
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