New technologies can bring about both incremental and transformational changes to increase the profitability, sustainability and productivity of Australia’s agriculture industry, says the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA).
Australian farmers face a number of challenges in the coming years. Drought, climate variability, biosecurity, global competition and consumer preferences are some of the greatest. Their impacts threaten Australia’s position among the most efficient primary producers in the world.
Embrace innovation and adopt technology
However, Australia’s primary producers have shown in the past that they are willing to embrace innovation and adopt technology to improve productivity and adapt to harsh conditions. In the report ’The Future of Agricultural Technologies’ by ACOLA, the technologies that could address these challenges are identified and discussed.
New technologies can bring about both incremental and transformational changes to increase the profitability, sustainability and productivity of Australia’s agriculture industry, says ACOLA. And there is much at stake. Australia’s diverse agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector is a US $ 50 billion industry.
US $ 72 billion goal for agriculture by 2030
Australia’s government has set a US $ 72 billion goal for agriculture by 2030. But it needs big steps on the field of technology to achieve this. Emerging technologies can help Australia’s agriculture sector to transform and tackle current and future challenges.
It’s clear that innovation in Australia’s agriculture sector is critical for its economy and food security. With a supportive policy environment, workforce and investment, the future of agriculture in Australia will be one in which data analytics and artificial intelligence are as at home on the farm as they are in any other high tech industry.
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A canola field in Australia. Increasing the capacity to adopt and adapt advanced technologies can lead to more drought resilient crops. - Photo: René Groeneveld
Digitisation of farms
Current developments indicate that the digitisation of farms through the ‘Internet of Things’ and data gathering and use will play a central role in future farm management strategies. This has many benefits. It allows farms to track resources, the monitoring of animal and plant health, supports farm labour activities and enables precision agriculture.
There are other technologies that could help Australia develop new products to meet climatic conditions and respond to consumer preferences, such as authenticating a product’s origins and quality assurance.
Increasing technology uptake in Australia’s agriculture sector can also help Australia to maximise opportunities for regional employment, business development and Indigenous landholders. Stakeholders have clear roles in supporting the sector to realise the potential of new technologies, including stimulating the agricultural technology and innovation ecosystem and building consumer confidence.
Step-changes in productivity
Addressing all the opportunities and challenges facing Australian agriculture requires a transformative application of emerging technologies. Step-changes in productivity are needed if Australian agriculture is to remain profitable and sustainable.
The findings in the report indicate that future investment should more effectively leverage Australia’s existing expertise in research and development, continuing a substantial legacy of innovation in agriculture.
The effectiveness of investment will be substantially enhanced by building more synergistic relationships across traditional sectoral boundaries and through multidisciplinary approaches to national issues.
Supporting adoption of agricultural technology
According to the report the strength and resilience of Australia’s agricultural sector will be enhanced by supporting adoption of agricultural technology by Indigenous landholders. The size of Indigenous estate suggests there is significant potential to realise more economic value through the adoption of advanced technology.
Buyer expectations can be better met. Advanced technologies offer new opportunities to address buyer concerns about the acceptability of some agricultural practices and to provide assurance, more broadly, that buyer expectations can be met in a robust and transparent manner.
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Australian farmers face a number of challenges in the coming years. - Photo: Canva
Australia will also have to work on appropriate policy settings to enable technological implementation to move beyond small incremental changes and support transformational change. This will require investment by government, industry and farmers into enabling infrastructure.
This includes both physical infrastructure (e.g. farm connectivity and regional data hubs) and soft infrastructure (e.g. machine learning and artificial intelligence). Future regulation of advanced technologies will need to be more transparent, outcome focused, accessible, and flexible.
Data will need appropriate national leadership and regulation. The collection of large amounts of farm related data from sensors on equipment and robotics should be harnessed for better on farm decision making and the creation of new products.
There are roles for all levels of government in facilitating the development of innovation ecosystems servicing agriculture and other regional industries. These ecosystems will be characterised by virtuous cycles of education, locally relevant research and development, industry application, and the establishment of technical service businesses.
Farmers should be active participants
It is important that farmers should be active participants in all discussions and decisions. And for a succesful transformation farmers and other agricultural workers need support to familiarise themselves with emerging technologies and to obtain the specialist skills required to maximise their use. Providing the skills for farmers to use new technologies on farm is important, as is developing the broader rural workforce to work in support and service roles.