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A view of the future of digital agriculture from the USA

- Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The keynote speaker at the Australian Farm Institute's forthcoming Digital Disruption in Agriculture conference is Dr David Clifford, Lead Quantitative Researcher, Agronomic Modelling, The Climate Corporation, USA. The Australian Farm Institute asked Dr Clifford a series of questions on the future of digital agriculture. 

AFI: What do you think has been the single most important factor that has encouraged the update of farm digital information systems in the USA - such as The Climate Corporation's FieldView (TM) products - over the past five years?  

The convergence of dramatic changes in technologies are making it possible to digitise the physical world and are opening new opportunities around data across a variety of industries, including agriculture. 

For example, electronic circuits are getting cheaper and more powerful. As a result, computing capability is 32 times what it was 10 years ago, for the same cost.  With the proliferation of sensors on agriculture equipment, advanced imagery provided by today's satellites, and more, we can now measure the physical world and represent it in digital form as data. We can then use that data to better predict the future, giving us the ability to make smarter decisions and drive better outcomes. While data-driven, digital tools are still fairly new to the world of agriculture, we've seen tremendous adoption of our Climate FieldView (TM) digital agriculture platform in the USA since its inception. 

Farmers are continuously looking for ways to be more efficient and sustainable and many recognise the importance of gaining a deeper understanding of what's happening in each of their fields, made possible through advancements in data science.  

 AFI: How important do you think digital information systems will be in the future in providing farmers in the USA with opportunities to lift farm productivity? 
The future is promising for the further integration of these technologies, proven by the valuable insight farmers can gain from using these tools on their operations. We know that true value is created for farmers when we can help them turn information about their operations into valuable insights. For example, our Climate FieldView (TM) platform helps support several key decisions a farmer makes each year, such as fertiliser application decisions, field health management efforts and more. 

At The Climate Corporation, we intend to build on the suite of digital tools we offer today by supporting even more key farming decisions in the future. Additionally, we believe that once farmers experience these technologies, they will become an essential part of their operations. 

 AFI Do you think there is a role for government agricultural researchers and agencies in the digital agricultural space, or should governments get out of the road and let the private sector take the running with the development of these systems? 

 There is certainly a role for government research and funding in the digital agriculture space. In the USA, we rely heavily on publicly available data sources that come from federal bodies, including soil information and weather observations. At The Climate Corporation, we partner and collaborate with researchers, both in government and academia, to further develop and validate our predictive models.  

 AFI: Looking forward 10 years, can you foresee a situation where digital information systems and autonomous machinery substantially reduces the hands-on role of farmers, and enables the development of much larger-scale, fully automated and corporatised crop farms in the USA? 

 Digital agriculture is already providing farmers with field-level insights, and as more components of the environment become digitised, digital agriculture will be able to provide greater and more precise insights that will help farmers make the most informed decisions - not just for every field, but for every acre and every plant.  I do believe digital agriculture will eventually help farmers to farm their land by the foot, which could change how and when farmers make their on-farm management decisions, but data-driven digital tools will never replace the hands-on role of farmers. 

 AFI: The $1 billion purchase of The Climate Corporation by Monsanto is the biggest single transaction in what is a very active Ag-Tech investment market. There is a lot of money changing hands on the promise of the technology, should we be concerned that it is another tech bubble? 

 The purchase of The Climate Corporation by Monsanto certainly kick-started a surge of investments in Ag-Tech. I think part of this can be attributed to the continuing realisation that it's going to take a truly integrated approach to delivering yield solutions to global farmers, and that includes the implementation of digital agriculture. 

 The Climate Corporation fundamentally believes digital agriculture has the potential to transform agriculture in the same way biotech has, by increasing productivity and sustainability. We believe that by harnessing agricultural data and providing digital tools that use that data to provide advanced insights to the farmer, we can support every decision a farmer makes. With data-driven insights, farmers can manage their operations with precision, optimising yield and maximising inputs. 

 We're excited to be part of this revolution in agriculture and to have a hand in delivering innovations that can make a difference to farmers, whether large or small-scale, around the world.

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