The Australian continent encompasses a varied range of agricultural zones that differ in climate, demographics and the degree of economic development. The country comprises states that, despite possessing singularly varied markets, have a common hunger for the collective growth of their food industry. Agriculture remains a small portion of the Australian economy contributing to 2.4 per cent of national GDP; and that has remained stable over the last five years – a fact that most Australian regional governments want to change and increase. As Australia moves from a population that demands food security to a population that focuses on food quality, smart agriculture will be critical for the industry to achieve these goals.
Why Smart Agriculture?
As food systems come under increasing pressure from rising temperatures and limited water resources, Australian farmers are being squeezed from multiple ends of the profit chain. Smart agriculture, which combines ICT and automation technologies, is a key avenue to increase profits by lesser input costs and better yields.
What would a smart agricultural Australia look like?
Government driven and better support:
As the Australian government begins to assess the challenges it has, both from a food security and food quality standpoint, coupled with its aging farmers and the rate of overwork in rural communities, support for more efficient agricultural practices will ramp up. For instance, in 2017 the Australian Federal Government announced AU$60 million in grants to support “smart farming partnerships” under the AU$1 billion National Landcare Program. This will drive an influx of public-private partnerships, largely spearheaded by CSIRO, to drive the digital transformation of the Australian agriculture industry and increase cost competitiveness and efficiency globally.
Labour concerns will be a key issue
On average, labour accounts for up to 40% of the cost of producing most Australian crops. As farmers age and migrant labour becomes scarce, the focus on efficient smart systems has never been as high.
Online labour marketplaces: The Internet has come to farmers’ rescues in finding skilled labour. For instance, AgDraft is an online marketplace helping farmers fill seasonal labour shortages by creating online profiles of workers and access to their referral in real time.
Mobile apps for lower skilled applications: Agersens, the ‘virtual shepherd’, combines a smartphone/tablet app, GPS technology, a wireless base station and neck collars, to create ‘fenceless farms’. By taking away the cost of the fence and allowing cattle monitoring via mobile technology, e-shepherd allows for much lower input costs and easier monitoring on extensive farms. Chemigation systems will be another key area as water management becomes a concern for farmers. Robotic and sensor controlled irrigation systems will drive interest in this space.
IT skills will trump brawn power on farms: While labour costs will reduce, the average labour quality will significantly increase. Skilled robotics and system management professionals will be required on farms to run the newer systems. There will be demand for data analytic professionals to predict crop patterns and strategise seeding options. Several service sectors currently limited to big cities will find growing demand in rural regions, a welcome respite for overburdened city infrastructure.
The future of the Australian agricultural industry lies in automation of its agricultural industry and adoption of smart agricultural practices. Australia is currently one of the most expensive parts of the world to do business in, as labour costs drive prices of raw materials up and cause losses on the export markets. Without an Agtech focus and providing value in its produce, Australia will struggle to compete both locally and internationally; a fact that government is quickly aiming to remedy.
Using findings from global research, Frost & Sullivan and leading diversified multinational, Mitsui Chemicals Inc (MCI) present the latest thinking, practices and technologies in highly productive farms at the free-to-attend briefing – ‘The Future of Australian Farming’, 10 am to 1 pm, 30th November, DEDJTR Hamilton Centre, 915 Mt Napier Rd, Hamilton, Vic 3300. For event details and to register please click here.
Natasha Telles D’Costa, Director, Frost & Sullivan’s Visionary Science Practice