Australian agriculture has never been more important in the context of economic and social support. In the middle of a global pandemic and recession, food security and the economic stability provided to regional economies is at the front of many Australian’s minds.
In light of international supply chain disruptions, there will be more pressure put on Australian agriculture to feed the world, particularly among existing trade partners such as Indonesia and Japan. The challenge is that many of the inputs required to grow Australian produce will become less accessible – as was seen earlier in the year when supply chain disruptions caused widespread starter-fertiliser shortages in Victoria. To get Australian agriculture through this, the Australian agronomy community, equipped with the right skills and digital tools, will be vital in supporting Australia’s economic resilience and recovery.
Agronomists are using digital tools to make better decisions on crop and soil management, improving agricultural efficiency and sustainability by doing so. However there are challenges and bottlenecks in accessing the right tools and the education needed to use them effectively.
The importance of digital agriculture has been discussed endlessly over the past few decades, and while there have been some clear productivity gains resulting from digital technologies, much of this is still in the hands of only a few growers. Studies have shown that adoption rates of Variable Rate Application (VRA) technology is only 20% in Australia, and this can be extrapolated out globally at a similar rate. Why is this the case, despite the clear benefits to productivity? The reasons vary across agricultural industries, but education is one of the primary ones.
There has recently been some good progress in this space, with the University of Sydney partnering with FarmLab as part of the Soil Tech project to turn much needed soil science into digital tools for future agronomists. Research and Development Corporations (RDCs), such as the Cotton RDC and Grains RDC, are also investing heavily in digital education through programs like Growing a Digital Future in Agriculture by providing a framework for digital innovation across Australian Ag.
We’re already experiencing a shift in the adoption of digital tools by existing agronomists. In FarmLab, the majority of our farms are now added through the import of SHP or KML files – digital formats containing polygons (or paddock/farm boundaries), as many agronomists are already widely using these digital maps. The use of the digital boundaries is a good sign, because it shows that an agronomist has had to use a digital boundary in another system – be it for cattle or crop management, or collection of NDVI imagery. It highlights adoption of these technologies further down the supply chain too, with agronomists working with farmers to provide digital technologies to support their operation.
The challenge at the moment is the integration of these datasets with other digital technologies. FarmLab has already begun working with VRA providers to ensure VRA maps and results can be transitioned easily into spreading systems. The need for integration is being felt widely across agtech too, with many standalone technologies now working with partners to provide increased value to the agronomist and grower.
Pressures and Productivity
Although we’re currently facing a once in a lifetime pandemic, Australia can pin it’s hopes in agriculture to pull us through. We will face further pressure to increase our agricultural productivity, but for the next new generation of farmers that have grown up with the internet and mobile phones this will come naturally as they harness the power of data and automation. As a result, the need for agronomists to understand, use and consult with digital tools will be more important than ever.