Getting agtech ready for 2030 and beyond
Australian agriculture is poised for growth, with a bold vision from the National Farmers Federation (NFF)to achieve $100 billion in farm gate output by 2030. Crikey…..how the hell are we going to do that? Especially given progress so far has not put us on pace.
This is not just a simple box ticking exercise, this must be done in a sustainable way while dealing with challenges such as: climate change; rising costs of production; drought; an aging farming population; getting and keeping good people on the farm; looking after ourselves; and meeting the ever changing consumer needs and expectations. Just to name a few of the many challenges we deal with in Ag.
We all know that agtech is absolutely going to play a role in helping us deal with all of these challenges. But how do we actually get started with agtech to unlock its potential?
At AgThentic, we’ve been busy tackling this question by asking innovative farmers on our AgTech So What podcast about their journeys with agtech. We’ve captured 5 key “juicy golden nuggets”of advice to help you get agtech ready.
The farmers we have spoken to have already put in the hard yards with agtech. They’ve been on the rollercoaster for some time now and have both successes and failings under their belt to show for it. So who better to ask?
We’ve even written an eBook based on what we’ve learned, with practical tips and examples to help you get your head around it all and ultimately get ready for agtech. I’ve summarized some of the key highlights below, while also drawing on some of my own experiences from my family’s mixed cattle, sheep, and cropping farm in southwest Western Australia. You can also check out the rest of the eBook, which we wrote in partnership with Decipher, for the full low-down on how to get agtech ready!
#1 Start with the problem
There is a lot of noise out there about agtech, and tons of solutions to wade through. To cut to the chase, what we’ve learnt is that it’s best to be strategic in your agtech management approach, by first identifying the problem you’re trying to solve.
For example, on our farm we are looking at using drones and considering some apps to help reduce our labour and fuel costs. We’ve identified that physically checking livestock in the paddock multiple times a day, plus manually recording and communicating information to manage our livestock, is very time consuming. Plus, the cost of running all the various vehicles we use to check livestock on the farm is high. These are problems that have been identified during our farm management meetings. Now that we know what our challenges are, we can begin to filter for solutions that will actually move the needle.
Identifying the problem first will help you keep your head above water, rather than get bogged down in the mud, as would likely have been the case if you’d started with the technologies and products first.
Questions to ask yourself are:
- What problem are you trying to solve? e.g. Is there a particular paddock or area of your business causing you grief?
- What outcomes are you hoping to achieve by solving this challenge? e.g. is it a yield improvement, livestock management practice change, or an operating cost reduction?
- How can agtech help you overcome the problem? It may be the case that agtech isn’t the answer, which is totally fine.
Answering these questions first will help with filtering and prioritizing specific technologies to solve the problem.
The process for getting started with agtech should be just the same as any other problem solving or decision making exercise you are currently doing on your farm. For example:
- ask you accountant what your biggest costs are, and whether any have the potential to be minimized through technology;
- ask your agronomist and farm consultant to help you pinpoint areas for improvement;
- brainstorm with your farm managers and staff (this is a good way to get buy-in too); or
- have a family or board meeting to discuss issues and opportunity areas.
Most farmers are already doing all or most of these things, the difference now is that agtech is part of the equation.
#2 Find technology that fits your farm’s workflows and systems
After determining what problem(s) you’re trying to solve, it’s critical to understand how a technology might fit into your particular workflows and systems. This will help you filter for and select products to help make those processes more efficient.
Finding agtech that fits your needs requires a deep understanding of the key steps/bottlenecks of your current workflows and systems, including how different members of your team operate along that process.
For example, our livestock management and record keeping process involves:
- Frequent in person livestock checks every day (on a quad bike, in a ute, or on foot) and recording of relevant data and information on paper/smartphone
- Manual entry of captured information into a software program called Stockbook
- Physically tagging the stock with an NLIS tag at marking
- Monitoring the livestock by running them over the air crush’s inbuilt walk over Tru-Test scales with inbuilt EID panel reader
- Automatically or manually transferring the data into Stockbook or to the smartphone
- Visually assessing feed on offer in paddocks, and then selecting paddocks
- Communicating verbal or written instructions regarding which paddock to shift the stock to.
And so on! You can see that it’s a highly detailed and bespoke process that is unique to us, and the people and tools doing the actual work on our farm.
There is absolutely potential for agtech to make all or parts of this process more efficient. We just need to pick which parts of the process we want to tackle first, and only then find a technology to solve for that particular part, all while making sure it fits with our existing tools and capabilities and the needs of our people.
Some things we’re looking at include drones to check the stock/water/fences, apps like AgriWebb to help with our livestock/paddock management, and trough/dam/water tank sensors or cameras.
#3 Keep it simple and start slow
Getting started with agtech can be simple if you start slow and small, and thoroughly get to know the agtech you have decided to implement or trial. It’s all about agtech risk management.
Once you have a sense of the whole product, you can prioritize where to start. The best place to start is with features that are both going to have a high impact and are easy to implement.
Start by asking yourself stuff like:
- Do I really need to use all of these features to solve my particular challenge or can I just use some/part of the features, at least to begin with?
- Which features will be hard vs. easy to implement?
- What sort of trial/small experiment “soft launch” can I do to get a better sense of how the product works and how people will use it?
- Who is going to use it and what training do they need?
- How long do we want to give this a try for?
- How will we capture issues so that we can give feedback to the vendor and ideas for how the product could be used better over time?
We once made the mistake of launching a new silage baler, that had a modified wrapping mechanism, which we put together with a new wrapping material on our entire farm. Unfortunately, the new wrapping material didn’t work as efficiently with the modified baler as we would have liked, and didn’t achieve the cost/time savings we had anticipated. In hindsight, it would have been better if we’d tried it on a small(er) scale or launched it over a staged period or over a couple of seasons to allow more time to modify the baler and/or wrapping material as required. Oh well, lesson learnt for next time.
Give it a go!
The last time I wrote a blog (my first!) it was about the elephant in the room with AgTech and how farmers and agtech companies need to acknowledge the elephant in the room and jump onto the agtech bandwagon while working together as a team, rather than from opposite sides of the fence.
Since then, I’ve been busy learning and absorbing as much information as possible on how farmers should actually go about doing this, to help make farmers lives easier (including my own family!) and therefore continue to do great, bold things.
I hope these insights help you start your journey with AgTech. There are plenty more tips and tricks in our eBook, including how to evaluate more than just the product, where to look for inspiration and ask for help, plus plenty more examples and practical tips from innovative farmers. Above all, be brave and give it a go!
— — —
The Getting Agtech Ready eBook and the four accompanying podcast episodes were created in partnership with Decipher, an easy-to-use precision agriculture (PA) solution helping growers and agronomists across the globe make data driven decisions.
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Originally published by AgThentic.
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