The agri-food sector is often seen as a digital laggard, but it has been a long-time user of data. The industry could also derive significant benefits from the Internet of Things.
Many see greater digitalization making a significant difference to industry productivity and helping it operate more sustainably in the future.
It’s a key factor in the National Farmers Federation’s plan to become a $100 billion industry by 2030. This story and video provide insight into the state of that progress.
To glimpse the potential for greater digitalization to benefit the agri-food sector and fresh produce consumers, just look into some pallets of fruit and vegetables being transported across Australia and other countries. You can find small blue boxes that transmit data about air temperature, humidity, and location. The devices come from Australian company Escavox, which uses them to address the kinds of supply chain and food waste issues that have been so prevalent in recent years.
Robert Lang, Chief Technology Officer of Escavox, told Digital Nation Australia: “One thing that has been highlighted by the pandemic and the associated ripple effects over the past two to three years is that digital channels supplies are unreliable. I think it’s been like this for a long time, but the impact has been much less than during the pandemic.
“What I mean by ‘it can’t be trusted’ is what you’re told happens to your product when it goes from production to, say, retail – it there are nuances in there, the producer, for example, is not aware.”
Escavox tackles this problem by tracking food from production to retail, with the goal of getting an accurate, real-time representation that it can then pass on to its customers.
“They don’t have to trust what they’re told, they can let the data tell the story,” Lang said.
“We can then apply this expertise further to algorithms and systems that can account for the impact of events that occur in the supply chain. Food quality and shelf life, for example, which remains on the food when it arrives at its destination. »
“Rapidly evolving ecosystem”
Escavox is just one illustration of the potential of digital agriculture. According to KPMG’s Director of Digital Agribusiness, Michael White, the main benefits of digitalizing agriculture include increased productivity, improved gross value of agricultural output, improved sustainability and providing tools and infrastructure to leverage data to unlock even more farm potential and capacity. .
White said they see an ecosystem changing quite rapidly.
“When we think about sustainable agriculture and the role of ESG measures in agriculture, there is going to be a flurry of reporting requirements at the individual farm level that the farmer and then the financiers and service providers will have to be able to declare on,” he said.
White is that driving collaboration that continues to drive the industry forward.
It is possible that sustainable lending packages need robust and reliable datasets that allow easy review and evaluation of performance against sustainability goals, which could look like a farm-level ESG report individual or collective, White told IoT Hub.
“Now that hasn’t happened yet. But it seems to be an area that could evolve and that we are watching very closely,” he explained.
Successful progress in digital agriculture, as in so many other types of digital transformations, involves taming data silos. Several projects aim to address this issue, including the brand new Australian Agrifood Data Exchange.
According to White, “This is an industry-led initiative that brings together many players from industry and government to create an interconnected data highway for Australian agriculture. This crosses many boundaries around potential use with biosecurity, traceability, provenance and benchmarking.
“The important thing is that as the project evolves, the whole ecosystem participates in it.”
It’s also important that the farmer controls their data, that it’s reliable and secure, and that farmers decide what gets published and for what purpose, White said.
“It’s probably a good example of a project that brings together key players in the system.”
Fertile ground for startups
Digital agriculture opportunities also send clear price signals to entrepreneurs, attracting startups to the sector.
According to Jonathan Quigley, partner at SparkLabs Cultiv8 agriculture and food technology accelerator, “If you look at different reports, you can see that the trend continues to increase in Australia. If you have a really strong founder with an amazing technology or concept , then you will find the capital to push this forward.
The organizations Spark Labs has worked with range from a company that optimizes sex determination in poultry to a company using drones and analytics to regenerate land to the Arugga company, which has gained international attention for its robots. pollinators.
Meanwhile, programs such as the New South Wales Future Farms Program and the Victoria Farm Internet of Things are testing, uh, researching, testing and deploying networks running on agricultural technology, adoption programs and provide grants for digital projects.
Log out on the ground
Momentum is building, but on some farms, the gap between the promise of digitization and the reality on the ground is glaring.
Charles Simons is manager and general manager of Mayfield Vineyard in Orange, New South Wales. Data is key to his business and Simons is a consultant for BioScout, which analyzes the number of spores in the air to help him prevent outbreaks in his vineyard. He says connectivity is a problem.
“Everything now works from apps, for which you need a connection. A phone call, you need a connection. Simple things. And so connectivity is very important to us. is an ongoing struggle,” says Simons.
“Yes, we had NBN and everything was rolled out, but it’s just as bad, if not worse than before. And I think that’s a serious problem for the industry. I can only imagine what it’s for the sheep farmers and the big stations, further west where there’s just no connection.”
While low-power networking technology can enable long-range connections to sensors and other systems, Simon says the technology doesn’t meet his needs and other solutions are expensive.
“Our biggest thing with investing in this stuff is that it has to make me money and save me money. And if it doesn’t do any of that, it won’t happen.”
Access is gradually changing as connectivity, technologies and services evolve, and everyone from tech companies to local councils are deploying and extending connectivity to more rural areas.
But until more farmers have simple, affordable access to these networks and to meaningful data that can make their jobs easier, the benefits of digital farming will remain uneven.
Addressing these issues isn’t just important to industry and the operations of companies like Mayfield Vineyard.
Here’s Michael White again: “At its core, agriculture fundamentally manages the natural capital base of the continent. And that’s really key because 51% of Australia’s landmass is run by farmers.
“So they’re not just focusing on the productivity of their farms, they want to preserve it and protect it for future generations.”