Australia is on the cusp of an agricultural technology innovation boom, with entrepreneurs urged to submit startup ideas to reinvigorate and boost our $60 billion agriculture industry.
Financial advisory and accounting services provider Findex and the National Farmers' Federation last week announced the launch of a pre-accelerator program as part of a joint initiative called SproutX designed to collate startup ideas to nurture and commercialise the best ideas in food, fibre and agribusiness.
The $10 million accelerator fund, supported by Artesian Venture Partners, will invest in the best AgTech ideas, and is backed by $1 million in initial funding from the Victorian Government as well as industry leaders including Findex and Ruralco.
The pre-accelerator will accept 100 applicants from across the country who will be equipped with basic business skills and lean startup principles, as well as access to mentors and a strong support network.
"Australia's biggest natural advantage lies in agriculture, not fintech, and we need to invest to ensure that we lead the way in developing and commercialising innovations in agtech," General Manager of SproutX Sam Trethewey said.
"The innovation boom has had a strong focus on fintech, but movements like that are not where Australia's natural competitive advantage lies.
"We're still in our infancy, but it's important to get behind the AgTech industry now and stimulate its growth. We need to connect innovators, investors and the agri-community to help bring ideas to fruition, and this pre-accelerator lays the groundwork for that."
At the end of the six-week pre-accelerator program, graduates will receive $1000 cash and $10,000 in services to help them pursue their venture. Those that show promise will also be invited to join the full six-month accelerator program when it launches in 2017.
Budding entrepreneurs can apply to be part of the SproutX program on their website.
Report outlines AgTech potential
A StartUpAus report called Powering Growth: Realising the Potential of AgTech for Australia threw the spotlight on AgTech naming it a critical component of the Farmers Federation goal to develop a $100 billion agricultural industry by 2030.
The report, co-authored by KPMG Australia, and supported by the Queensland Government and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), notes that the agricultural sector is already the largest employer in rural and regional communities, generates 4 per cent of Australia's total employment, provides 93 per cent of the nation's domestic food supply, and contributes approximately 13 per cent ($42 billion) of Australia's export revenue.
StartUpAus CEO Alex McCauley said technology has always played an important role in increasing Australia's agricultural output.
"We have an extremely valuable opportunity here to develop technologies that make a real difference to the economy's bottom line, while also helping rural Australia realise the economic benefits of the digital technology revolution," he said.
"If Australia is to realise its ambition to be the food bowl for a rapidly-growing middle class in Asia and Africa, we will need to become a leader in AgTech."
Innovation brings change
Some Australian agricultural producers are already changing the game when it comes to technological innovations.
Since 2011, researchers across the northern parts of rural Australia have been trialling satellite technology to aid farmers on immensely large properties in tracking their livestock and monitoring the condition of their pastures.
Entrepreneurs such as Ella Shannon are also using tech to make life easier for primary producers.
Shannon, who grew up on a sheep and cattle property in Yass, NSW, designed and launched a tech platform called AgDraft to help increase the utilisation of skilled labour in regional areas as well as make use of more transient, seasonal labour sources.
"We profile and match workers to jobs on skills, job category and time availability," Shannon said.
"No farm is immune from labour shortages. I wanted to provide a tool and ignite a workforce from outside of the industry including backpackers, grey nomads and uni students.
"We use an Airbnb style reviewing system to build trust and help people connect outside their networks."
Shannon said without a reliable labour force, production is affected.
"Short-term jobs (don't get) done, or resources are pulled from other part of the business and this is costly in terms of productivity and output."
She said the site already had 650 registered users in less than a year of operation.
"The industry is at a turning point in digital disruption, we have forged past early adopter and moving into widespread use of technology," she said.
"These advancements in technology will change the skills and expertise needed in agriculture."