Australia’s agriculture sector is set to undergo a technological overhaul after the government announced a collection of measures poised to boost innovation and entrepreneurship last December.
The initiatives, led by the National Farmers Federation (NFF), include the use of unarmed aerial vehicle technology (UAVs), digital agriculture services, machine-to-machine communication and sophisticated analytics software.
NFF CEO Simon Talbot stressed that the use of such technology will transform Australian farming by maximising the efficiency and productivity of farmers while in turn leading to unprecedented growth in the agriculture sector.
“The industry will double by 2030,” he told The Huffington Post Australia.
“The digital lights are coming on and these highly productive farms are going to go through a watershed change.
“We’re going to see smarter farmers running bigger, fully-digitised farms.”
The use of UAVs, commonly known as drones, have given farmers the power to identify issues in the field without even leaving the house, allowing them to set and prioritise daily tasks.
“At 5.30am this morning a drone was sent out to monitor water troughs, fences and herds,” Talbot said, citing a real-life example from a farm he was visiting.
“On an iPad, the farmer then has the exact work activities lined up for the day, with the drone saving him three hours of driving around looking for what needs to be done.
“He has more time to devote more on productivity or running an additional farm.”
Other initiatives include a Digital Agriculture Service, which will provide farmers with detailed, real-time information about their farms while also offering comprehensive database recommendations.
In addition to this, sophisticated analytics software capable of combining historic field data with real-time data and measurements presents a range of operational possibilities for farmers to make decisions that will improve the performance of their field.
However, one of the major obstacles standing between farmers and the application of these new digital technologies is poor (or no) access to the internet.
Talbot concedes that unreliable internet connectivity acts as a hindrance to many of the new initiatives but remains optimistic that this obstacle will be overcome within the next three to four years.
“There’s a number of solution providers coming to the market, including the NBN satellite,” he said.
“Vodafone also has plans of putting base station Wi-Fi in large commercial farms that can monitor herds and UAVs and send and receive information up and down to satellites.”
New developments in the National Broadband Network (NBN) such as fixed wireless and satellite services are instrumental in delivering high speed internet to rural Australia.
“There are two technologies that service regional and remote areas,” the NBN's corporate affairs adviser Jace Armstrong told HuffPost Australia.
“Fixed wireless services -- we’re more than half way through our build of that. It’s capable of speeds of 50 megabits per second compared to eight megabits per second in urban Australia, something that regional people just haven’t had before.
“The satellite service launched on October 1 is the first of two satellites to deliver fast broadband to regional and remote parts of the country.”
Australia’s agricultural industry currently exports 78 percent of its produce around the world -- a fact that is surprising to many.
“We feed 80 million people around the world and people think that it is all domestic, but it’s a small part of the pie,” Talbot said.
“It’s a $57 billion industry growing 8 percent per year that will double by 2030.”
The opportunities for Australian farmers appear to have never been greater, with half of the world’s middle class living a stone throw away in Asia, as emphasised by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull when unveiling the new measures last December.
“This is vitally important,” he said at the announcement.
“All of the food and fibre that Australian farmers produce -- the customers, half of the world’s customers are now living in our longitude right to the north of us and that percentage is only going to grow.”