Report Synopsis

Robotics, Automation and Emerging Technologies for the Future of Australian Horticulture

Matthew Fealy

AgTech is trending and appears on the topic list at any global agricultural event today. Terms such as robotics, automation, deep learning, machine vision, and blockchain are appearing in AgTech media articles, promising to revolutionise agricultural production like never before, claiming to be the solution to feeding a growing global population. Farmers are being warned that the fourth industrial revolution is coming, and agriculture, one of the most manual labour dependent industries, stands to be changed forever. Michael Dean, CIO of AgFunder (The World’s leading online Agtech venture capital platform) explains:

“As with all industries, technology plays a key role in the operation of the Agrifood sector, a USD$7.8 trillion industry, responsible for feeding the planet and employing well over 40% of the global population. The pace of innovation has not kept up with other global industries and today agriculture remains the least digitised of all major industries…”

AgFunder reported that in 2017 alone, over USD$10bn was invested in AgriFood Tech in projects such as farm robotics and equipment, farm management software, agribusiness markets, online restaurants and novel home cooking platforms [AgFunder, 2017].

High profile acquisitions such as the USD$305million purchase of robotics start up Blue River Technology by John Deere Co, or farm management software start up Granular by DowDuPont for USD$300million, are signs the AgTech industry is maturing [AgFunder, 2017].

So, why are most farmers still only reading about these innovations that will transform their businesses, and when will they see some of this USD$10bn begin to filter down to the farm gate and make a positive change to the hip pockets?

Drawing from visits to 13 countries, and interviews with some of the world’s most innovative farmers and prominent AgTech companies, this report provides a practical distillation of existing and near future technologies that will make a difference to farming practices, with a focus on orchard production. The report presents authentic case studies visited by the author, outlining commercial farming businesses that have embraced cutting-edge technology and are realizing the benefits. It aims to identify real risks to current business models identified through discussions with farmers from all over the globe, offering an in-depth analysis of current global trends such as urbanisation, increasingly unpopular temporary worker schemes and the seemingly limitless increases in workforce administration and regulatory costs. Whilst still maintaining a farmer first approach, the report presents near future technologies that are transitioning out of research and into development, aiming to address the most critical of these challenges.

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