Moving beyond the data drought

There is a hive of activity and public debate about the future of energy policy in Australia, particularly given rising electricity prices.

The current debate about insufficient public investment in information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure in rural and regional Australia is suffering from a lack of economic analysis on the potential benefits that increased investment could bring.

While politicians and investors are increasingly heralding the importance of agriculture to the Australian economy, the reality is that the businesses and communities driving the so-called ‘dining boom’ continue to struggle to access affordable and reliable internet services.

The ‘digital divide’ between city and country unfortunately continues to grow. This is partly due to the fact that Australia is one of the most urbanised, sub-urbanised and citified places in the world. Developing infrastructure that meets the nation’s unique demographic and geographical challenges, and serves the needs of rural businesses is never easy.

Rather than dwelling on the negatives, we must re-frame the issue and focus on the opportunities for investment. Current underinvestment in ICT infrastructure is potentially costing the Australian economy billions of dollars each year in lost productivity.

The Australian Farm Institute (AFI) is currently completing an extensive study that aims to deliver a clearer understanding of the value of digital agriculture, the cost of lack of adoption, and the changes that digital agriculture will bring to the business environment supporting the Australian farm sector.

The research is driven by three key questions:

  • What is the potential economic impact of fully-enabled digital agriculture (and what’s this worth to the Australian economy)?
  • What are current barriers (eg poor rural internet connectivity) costing agricultural industries and the Australian economy?
  • What are the business models (and value propositions) that are likely to accelerate the development of digital agriculture products and services?

This research forms part of the Accelerating Precision Agriculture to Decision Agriculture (P2D) project, supported by the Federal Government’s Rural R&D for Profit program. It is the first project to be supported by all 15 Rural Research & Development Corporations (RDCs), whose levy-paying members reflect the diversity of food and fibre production in Australia. In doing so, it takes a whole of agriculture approach to the adoption of digital agriculture technologies and systems, and explores opportunities for improved cross-sectoral industry research collaboration.

To address the many challenges of farming in a data drought we need to develop a clear business case for investment in digital infrastructure. The P2D project aims to shed new light on how to overcome current constraints, while outlining the potential benefits of digital agriculture.

Findings and recommendations from this project will help inform appropriate funding and policy measures to ensure that the full benefits of digital agriculture are realised. In particular, this research will help guide ongoing investments by government and RDCs in areas that reduce current barriers to decision agriculture.

The final project report is expected to be completed by the end of 2017. For more information about the P2D project please visit: www.farminstitute.org.au/P2Dproject

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