While investment in digital technology for agriculture trails all other sectors, especially finance, the industry is sensing a boom in adoption by farmers. Less than $5 million was invested in Australian ag tech deals last year, while globally the figure was $4 billion, according to Michael Dean, a co-founder of the US-based Ag Funder who spoke at a recent Queensland conference.
That represented a 93 per cent lift on the previous year.
The Australian Farm Institute’s conference in Sydney highlighted how digital technology was “fundamentally changing agriculture”, away from skills-based management to a more industrialised model, where decisions are based on objective data.
Among the Australian ag tech companies leading the way is The Yield, which has recently developed a risk assessment app for the Tasmanian oyster industry. Founder Ros Harvey, an adjunct professor of the Queensland University Technology, worked with Barilla Bay Oysters, which wanted to calculate the risks to oysters from contamination after rain.
The company faced between $20,000 and $100,000 in losses each day health authorities closed the farm. “So we can get a 30-per-cent reduction in unnecessary closure days.”
In April this year, The Yield won a $2.5 million investment from the European-based Bosch Group, which it will use to employ 25 highly skilled staff to generate new technology in the food and agriculture sector.
One area where Australia is leading the sector is in field robotics at the University of Sydney. Professor Salah Sukkarieh and his team at the Australian Centre for Field Robotics have contracts with agriculture, mining and commercial aviation.
Its new ‘shrimp’ robot, named for its 16 sensors, is being trialled in apple and almond orchards.
“It’s able to go up and down rows autonomously and detect [and count very rapidly] individual features like flowers, fruit or nuts,” Professor Sakkarieh said.
That project has been extended to include tropical fruit and macadamia nuts. Professor Sakkarieh said researchers were now advising farmers to prepare tree row spacing and sheds to be able to accommodate a team of robots and computers rather than just workers.
“In the vegetable industry, our collaborations in the past have been with growers, and now it’s focussing on the value to individual growers, to get a return on investment.”
Broadacre farmers have used global positioning in tractors for over a decade, to help reduce soil compaction on their farms. But with big data, there is the scope for more information that can make farming even more profitable.
“We have just seen a massive boom with the way people are adopting technology,” said Tim Neale, of the Toowoomba-based private start up Precision Ag.
Precision Ag uses soil analysis to develop maps to help determine lime and fertiliser rates at the beginning of the season. “Then as the crop is harvested, the yield monitor collects data from the harvester, to complete the cycle to go back into preparing the soil for the next year,” Mr Neale said.
Read in full: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-08/ag-technology-in-australia/7488824