Digital Agriculture. Farming in the Digital Age
In what is currently considered the digital age, agriculture remains the least digitised major industry and is yet to realise the opportunities increasing digitisation has to offer. The precedent is being set by the information communication technology, media and finance sectors that are fundamentally more suited to digitisation and seeing increased productivity growth beyond those industries yet to undergo the transition. Agriculture is justifiably a difficult industry to digitise however with a growing global population there is a fundamental need to increase food production whilst being mindful of the associated environmental impacts. As investment in agriculture increases and technology advances, the potential is for agriculture to enjoy a renewed resurgence in productivity growth enabled by the adoption of digital technologies.
Globally, investment in Agri-food tech is increasing, with California accounting for nearly half of global investment in this emerging sector. Despite this, much of the productivity gains resulting from the application of new Agtech in broadacre systems are largely restricted to cost reductions through better allocation of inputs. Furthermore, much of what is currently available is focused on single use case solutions and fails to meet the growing requirement of producers to integrate into existing farming production systems or generate genuine business insight.
It was made clear during several meetings that there isn’t the return on investment needed to generate the widespread adoption of new technologies and in many cases the solutions that are offered haven’t been developed with the farmers needs as a primary focus. Globally, farms are lacking the necessary connectivity infrastructure and digital literacy needed to implement digital solutions effectively and the situation in Australian agriculture is no different.
The potential for digital agriculture lies both in on farm productivity gains and increased returns beyond the farm gate. Decision agriculture is the step beyond precision agriculture and recognises the application of digital agriculture, resulting in an action or practice change informed by the analysis of data and information collected via digital means (Heath, 2018). The potential is to be more reactive to situations that arise, maximising the impact correct decision making has on overall business performance by removing the constraints on iv productivity that are within the control of the farmer (Heath, 2018). However, perhaps the greatest potential of digital agriculture is in the marketing opportunities that may exist in linking production data and farming practices direct to the consumer and leveraging a premium as a result. This approach requires the rebuilding of trust, between consumers and producers of food, and the industry as whole will need to become increasingly transparent and responsive to consumer trends if it is to take advantage this.
Despite much of the hype surrounding Agtech there is still a way to go before agriculture can capture the real potential of digital agriculture. Producers need to consider each solution based on its merit and suitability to their farming operations and how it fits within the growing suite of digital technologies employed on farm. Farmers need to better evaluate how data is collected and organised to ensure it can be used effectively to inform business decisions and take advantage of potential marketing opportunities. Grower-owned data cooperatives should be given further consideration as a means of achieving this whilst ensuring data is used and distributed in a way that is beneficial to farmers.
Moving forward, farmers will need to develop a better understanding of digital technology in order to implement and use it effectively. There is a growing need for consultants specialising in identifying digital technology that provide measurable on farm benefits and who can assist in the implementation and integration of Agtech into increasingly complex farming systems.
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