Widespread uptake of digital technologies across Australian farms could lead to an increase in industry revenue of $20 billion per year, according to the Chair of the National Farmers’ Federation, Tony Mahar.
Mr Mahar’s comment was in response to an announcement by Agriculture Minister David Littleproud who outlined a new agricultural innovation agenda earlier this month.
“To realise this, we need the right policy and regulatory settings to support farmers to adopt safe and proven technologies,” he said.
“The NFF has been calling for Government to lead the development of a digital strategy for agriculture, with a focus on skills; data policy and regulation; innovation and telecommunications connectivity and adoption”.
According to economic modelling commissioned by the NBN, internet-enabled digital tools that collect information to help growers make data-driven decisions have the capability to add $15.6 billion to agricultural revenue.
Technologies monitoring climate and environment factors with sensors, such as soil moisture monitors, have the potential to add another $4.3 billion and automation of farm machinery could add another $3.3 billion.
The research showed that every state and territory would benefit from improving the capacity and use of digital technologies in agriculture. New South Wales would gain an additional $3.7 billion a year, followed by Victoria ($3.5b), Queensland ($3.4b), Western Australia ($2.4b), South Australia $1.9b), Tasmania ($50 million) and the Northern Territory ($10m).
By sector, dryland cropping would benefit the most ($3.7) with a boost of $5.7 billion, followed by extensive livestock ($4.3b) and horticulture.
Mr Mahar said that the use of digital tools had the ability to build value and manage risk, in addition to financial gains.
“Whether adopting sensors and analytics to help increase crop yields or using robotics to automate dangerous tasks and reduce workforce risks, there is significant scope for connected farming to grow exponentially across Australia, particularly as technology and infrastructure improves,” he said.
Target ‘Low Hanging Fruit’ Advises AgTech Expert
While agtech has the potential to offer solutions for a range of agricultural tasks, one expert has warned farmers to concentrate investment in areas with significant potential production gains.
“If you look at northern Australia, knowing where your cattle are for mustering efficiency and reducing helicopter time, that’s a very big win,” said Dr Mark Trotter, an Associate Professor in Precision Livestock Management at Central Queensland University.
While dairy farmers gained an easy advantage from using smart tags to better time joining, Dr Trotter advises that tagging only bulls could be a more cost-effective strategy for beef cattle graziers.
“You can see a shift in behaviour when a bull breaks down and stops working properly,” Dr Trotter said.
“There may also be some interesting ways we can optimise the percentage of bulls that are put out based on understanding their behaviour in real time.
“In the middle of the season, we can see what’s actually happened with those bulls; how many are working, how many aren’t, and it’s the same thing with rams.”