Technology fuelled farm businesses: 5 lessons from our agtech journey

24.03.20

AgriFutures Australia Senior Manager, Business Development Jennifer Medway has written a fascinating piece sharing her personal lessons on how her family farm is adopting the latest tech and innovation. Read on.

Attending evokeAG last month cemented the concept we hear daily that technology is driving the next revolution in Australian Agriculture. I am literally surrounded by information on technology—drones, precision agriculture, robotics, sensors, 3D printing, genomics, IoT, biotechnology, autonomous vehicles… just to scratch the surface.

As a fifth generation farmer helping run our wool and sheepmeat enterprise at Gunning, NSW, like many generations before me I am asking the question of how we can pivot our business to remain on the cutting edge. How can our farm business continue to innovate and remain profitable and sustainable in an unpredictable and often hostile ag sector?

My day job as Senior Manager of Business Development at AgriFutures Australia, one of 15 Rural Research and Development Corporations, has opened my eyes to a myriad of opportunities for farmers to adopt new technologies and innovations. In fact, I constantly hear that to not engage in the wave of new technologies is to do our business a huge disservice and likely banish us back to the dark ages.

So I started to work my way through opportunities for our farm business. As a livestock producer, we started to think about investments we could make to create a step change in the trajectory of our business—not a little bump in the road that would be absorbed into general revenue, but technology investments that would enable us to generate significant returns.

What I found was a lot of soil mapping and monitoring technology and robotics that have the potential to be game changers for the cropping sector. I found a lot of technology that saved time—for instance, drones that could check troughs or tank sensors for monitoring water levels. I found technologies that could connect me to my consumer through QR-codes and apps that could improve our stocking rate and help with my business reporting.

I realised that like many farmers I was looking at technology as a magic bullet to a problem that I hadn’t fully realised. What I mean is that technology is not a means to an end. Attending evokeAG last week, a speaker so eloquently put it that a bad producer cannot uptake technology and suddenly become a good producer.

But, did my experience match that of my farming peers—well yes! We have all heard stories of farmers who had big plans to use their shiny new drone to achieve yield mapping, weed identification and ‘see lice on a sheep’s back’. After a month or so, that investment often turns out to be a cool camera that enables farmers to take great shots and up the ante on their social media profile.

What I realised was that I was short on practical pathways and examples of how we could use technology to make our thriving business better—case studies of producers who had leapt in, made the tech investment and were now reaping the rewards of a more profitable and productive business. I was missing access to tools to understand the return on investment (ROI) that would create a line of sight from initial investment to financial reward.

Was I asking the right question? Like many others, jumping to technology to solve an ill-defined problem is not the answer. After some soul searching, I realised that we needed to clearly define the problem or opportunity for our farm business that technology has the potential to solve. And voila, the tech solution was staring us in the face.

So what have we learnt, a couple of things…

1.      Technology can’t provide a solution to a question you don’t know you are asking. A shiny gadget, a new piece of machinery or a ‘smarter’ way of doing things won’t in itself deliver your business gains.

2.      Get your house in order by critically analysing your business’ strengths and weaknesses and invest in technologies that can negate risks or strengthen your overall business position.

3.      Do the work to identify technologies that answer the right question and fit your production system.

4.      Don’t overinvest and start simple!

5.      Do your homework and sums and look for novel ways to use a piece of technology to add additional ROI to your investment.

If everything comes together and the seasons are a little kinder, hopefully you can create your own step change towards a technology fuelled profitable farm enterprise. For our business, we are only part way through this journey, but so far we seem to be heading in the right direction!

Jen Medway has a unique perspective on agricultural innovation, as a successful sheep producer from Gunning, NSW as well as Senior Manager at AgriFutures Australia, involved in cross-industry research and agtech ecosystems.

Senior Manager, Business Development,  AgriFutures Australia

Media Enquiries:

Jennifer Medway, AgriFutures Australia, Senior Manager Business Development

Jennifer.Medway@agrifutures.com.au