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Wesfarmers goes high-tech in return to farming roots

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Agriculture / Company News

Wesfarmers goes high-tech in return to farming roots

Wesfarmers goes high-tech in return to farming roots

Originally published by The Australian Financial Review

Wesfarmers is going back to its rural roots with the launch of a technology business aimed at farmers in Australia and overseas.

Central to the workings of Wesfarmers’ start-up business, Decipher, is the world-first use of Google Earth Engine in a commercial farming service.
The service is touted as a breakthrough in user-friendly, cloud-based digital mapping and data storage for farmers striving for greater efficiencies.

Wesfarmers has opted for a soft launch of the Decipher platform on the east coast this week after the business grew out of less sophisticated mapping and data management tools developed by the company’s CSBP fertiliser division in Western Australia.

The basic platform is available free of charge on a trial basis. Wesfarmers is gearing up for a commercial launch early next year, which will include subscription fees. The conglomerate has ambitions to market the platform overseas once it is established in Australia.

The grunt behind Decipher comes from Google Earth Engine, which uses satellite images, geospatial data and processing power to provide in-depth vegetation analysis in seconds.
Wesfarmers expects to finalise a commercial arrangement with Google Earth Engine as the platform gains traction in the market.

CSBP fertiliser general manager Charlie Perkins said Decipher allowed farmers to track trends, variability, biomass and changes in crop growth in a highly visual way across individual paddocks.
Solving farmers’ problems. In launching Decipher, Wesfarmers throws its hat into a global market crowded with specialist technology players.

However, many of the products are complicated and targeted at retailers or reseller in agriculture in markets like the United States where the use of variable rate technology is commonplace.
Australia lags behind in variable rate technology, with only 5 per cent of the thousands of grain growers in Western Australia estimated to make use of it.

Research from grower groups across Australia shows wider adoption of the technology would boost production and increase revenue but not necessarily reduce input costs.
Mr Perkins said that as a major fertiliser supplier CSBP had a clear picture of the problems farmers grappled with wanted solved.

“We have built this platform because we talked to a lot of farmers who were really struggling to manage and store their data,” he said.

“This platform is quite visual and farmers are really visual people. It is based on Google Maps, which many of them use now in some form and it is relatively simple and intuitive.”

Wesfarmers started life as a farmers’ cooperative more than a century ago, but its direct investment in agriculture narrowed to just fertiliser supply in Western Australia as it evolved into one of Australian biggest and most diverse companies.

Mr Perkins said it was exciting to have a start-up business focused on farming.”Agriculture is global and farmers in Australia continue to be under pressure because of developments around the world so they have to keep improving,” he said.

“If they can understand variability across the farm, a paddock, a zone within a farm, they can do something about it. It might be a soil nutrition issue, a pH [soil acidity] problem or different water holding capacity in the soil.

“Managing risk and understanding the business better means sometimes spending more, sometimes less. It might mean we sell less fertiliser at times but, if it means our customers are more sustainable, that is a good thing.”

While pitched at farmers, Decipher also has advantages for city-based investors wanting to remotely track crop growth and correlate how crops are progressing in comparison to past years.

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