Digital Farmers Conference 2018


Digital agriculture is evolving rapidly. Recent industry discussions and conferences have focused on explaining the technology: what is big data, what is blockchain, how will the benefit be realised?

As awareness of available technology matures, it’s time to shift focus to the fundamental enabler in this revolution without which there would be no agriculture, let alone digital agriculture: people.

The Australian Farm Institute Digital Farmers conference on 13–14th June 2018 explored the role that people play in digital agriculture, and the impact of digital agriculture on people.

Each session focussed on how different groups of stakeholders interact with and become part of the developing digital agriculture landscape.

The Institute’s annual mid-year conference was held at Doltone House on Jones Bay Wharf in Pyrmont, Sydney, with a gala dinner at the Maritime Museum. The conference brought together the leading minds of Australian agriculture and agribusiness in a vital networking event for producers, supply chain providers, business managers and policy-makers.

Sessions included: 

RURAL COMMUNITIES – What non-agricultural benefits can agtech bring to communities?

FARMERS – What support is available to provide farmers with confidence to participate in digital agriculture?

FARM WORKERS – Is the rural workforce evolving with the technology?

STUDENTS – How is the education and training environment changing to accommodate digital agriculture? 

TECHNOLOGY DEVELOPERS – How can agri and tech communities capitalise on mutually beneficial opportunities?

CONSUMERS – How will digital agriculture change the relationship between farmers and consumers?

Speakers & Presentations

Keynote Speakers

Matthew Pryor

Matthew, who grew up in country Victoria, is Chair of Rocket Seeder, a not-for-profit, member-based organisation committed to supporting food and agriculture entrepreneurs. Matthew is also the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Observant, established in 2003 to use technology to manage scarce agricultural water in drought-hardened north Western Australia. Observant expanded to provide irrigation solutions for all types of farming operations throughout Australia and globally, leading to its acquisition by Jain Irrigation. Matthew is recognised for his expertise in building and scaling an agricultural technology business, taking it through capital raising and exit through a trade sale.

Mick Keogh

ACCC Commissioner

Mick was appointed the founding Executive Director of the Australian Farm Institute in 2003, and has recently resigned to take up a full-time role as a Commissioner of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission with a focus on agricultural and small business issues. Prior to leading the AFI, he was General Manager Policy at the NSW Farmers’ Association. Mick has been Chairman of the National Rural Advisory Council; a member of the Emissions Reduction Assurance Council; and a member of the CSIRO Sustainable Agriculture Flagship Advisory Committee. Mick grew up on – and continues to be involved in – a mixed-farming enterprise based in southern NSW.


David Brownhill

Merrilong Pastoral Company

Dave and his wife Liz manage Merrilong Pastoral Company with their family. Merrilong covers 9800 hectares at Spring Ridge, NSW, focused on dryland and irrigated grain production. Dave’s key interests are no-till farming, controlled traffic farming systems and high value crops. He is also a founding director of a grower group of 24 farms, AMPS Agribusiness Pty Ltd, which is committed to information dissemination, structured farming and returning profits to research. Dave co-developed the Ground Hound Zero till planter, and received a Nuffield Scholarship in 1998.

David Jochinke

President, VFF

David is a third generation farmer who operates a family property at Murra Warra (30 km North of Horsham) producing various broadacre crops and finishing prime lambs. At Longerenong College, he studied a Diploma of Applied Science and in later years, had the honour of being awarded scholarships for Nuffield Australia and the Australian Rural Leadership Program. For over a decade he has been heavily involved with the local VFF district that led to being elected as the last VFF treasurer and chair of the Finance Committee as well as Vice President from 2012–16.

Dr Kate Devitt

Dave and his wife Liz manage Merrilong Pastoral Company with their family. Merrilong covers 9800 hectares at Spring Ridge, NSW, focused on dryland and irrigated grain production. Dave’s key interests are no-till farming, controlled traffic farming systems and high value crops. He is also a founding director of a grower group of 24 farms, AMPS Agribusiness Pty Ltd, which is committed to information dissemination, structured farming and returning profits to research. Dave co-developed the Ground Hound Zero till planter, and received a Nuffield Scholarship in 1998.

Emma Leonard

PhD candidate, University of New England

Emma has a background in agriculture and over 25 years’ experience communicating technical information to farmers in Australia and the UK. She is proprietor of AgriKnowHow, a business she runs from a farm in South Australia that relies on satellite broadband and boosted mobile phone signal. Since 2006 she has edited Precision Ag News, the magazine of the Society of Precision Agriculture Australia. In 2017 she commenced a PhD from the University of New England looking at ‘How to overcome the barriers to the adoption of digital agriculture’.

Farm Workers

Matt Notley

Matt has developed and implemented multiple courses for Tocal Agricultural College including the Precision agronomy skills set, Certificate 4 Cropping and technology units, and the Certificate 3 precision agriculture unit. Having seen the demand for a trained digital farm workforce in current and future agriculture technology, Matt uses his extensive knowledge and expertise to develop a number of courses at multiple skill levels, with a focus to provide the relevant training with clear objectives contextualised for the modern agriculture student.

Dr Amy Cosby

Amy is a Senior Research Officer – Agri-tech Education and Innovation at CQ University. She has developed and implemented a range curriculum aligned agri-tech learning modules for university, VET and high school students. Amy’s research aims to demonstrate that by exposing young people to agri-tech from an early age this will increase the adoption on technology across the agricultural supply chain as when these young people enter the workforce as they will be confident and skilled in the use of the latest tools and systems.

Andrew Fowler

Andrew and his wife Marie farm with his family outside Esperance in Western Australia. The business produces canola, barley, wheat, lamb, wool and beef; focusing on the synergies between the livestock and the crops, grazing all the crops and ensuring good sub-clover pasture regeneration. Andrew is a life member of the South East Premium Wheat Growers Association and a member of the GRDC’s local Regional Cropping Solutions Network. He travelled on his Nuffield Scholarship in 2000, was elected to the Board of Nuffield in 2011 and was appointed Chair in September 2016.

Tech Developers

Sarah Nolet

Sarah is CEO and founder of global food and agriculture technology consulting firm AgThentic. She has been instrumental in building the early-stage food system innovation ecosystem in Australia, including coaching dozens of start-ups, designing accelerator programs, and helping industry and government to implement international best practices in food and ag innovation. Sarah is on the Board of the Future Farmers Network and holds a Masters in System Design and Management from MIT, and a BS in Computer Science and Human Factors Engineering from Tufts University.

Carolynne James

NSW DPI GATE Project Leader

Carolynne’s current role with the NSW DPI, involves developing ag-tech initiatives and long-term business strategies. She is also the Leader of the GATE Project – Global Ag-tech Ecosystem, a DPI innovation centre launched in March 2018 in Orange. She has over 20 years experience in strategic and policy advice to state and local government with management roles in the NSW Cabinet Office, the NSW and Northern Territory Parliaments, and the City of Sydney Council. Carolynne has also worked in advocacy and regional development as the Executive Director of the Northern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils.

Doug Fitch

CEO, Agworld

Doug Fitch is a co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of the global information management business Agworld Pty Ltd. Passionate about farming from a young age, he began building a practical skill set for farming beginning with an apprenticeship in automotive mechanics, later working as a wool classer, and then manufacturing agricultural implements. Doug ran a contracting business in Bruce Rock, WA, and in 1994 joined AgrEvo Pty Ltd as a chemical sales representative, later joining Bayer CropScience, where he worked in both state and national positions across Australia until 2007.


Edwina Robertson

Edwina is a country wedding photographer who grew up in northern NSW and is now based in Toowoomba, Qld. She is passionate about being ‘a positive voice for the bush’. After 100 days travelling throughout outback Australia with no money in 2017 on her project Wander of the West, she is now focused on raising awareness about the real issues rural people face – ‘without sugar-coating reality’ – to restore the lost connection many Australians once had with the bush.

Verity Morgan-Schmidt

CEO, Farmers for Climate Action

Under Verity’s leadership, Farmers for Climate Action has harnessed the power of digital technology to drive community engagement with the farm sector in a 21st-Century model of agricultural advocacy. Originally a farm girl from the sheep and wheat country of Western Australia, Verity is a former Executive Officer for Western Australian Farmers Federation and managed WAFF’s response to both the introduction of $1 milk and the 2011 live exports ban. Verity holds a Master of Arts (Politics) in Sustainability and Bachelor of Arts with a double major in Politics and Global Studies.

Catherine Forge

Catherine is a curator and photographer at Museums Victoria working on the Invisible Farmer Project – the largest ever study of Australian women on the land, which involves a nationwide partnership between rural communities, academics, government and cultural organisations. The project seeks to tell the untold stories of Australian women in agriculture and is actively utilising digital and social media to engage the community in sharing their stories. Catherine’s role is to interview and photograph women in agriculture and document and share their stories.

Rural Communities

Will Rayner​

Will joined Rural Bank in September 2013, and was appointed Chief Financial Officer in October 2015. He has held executive responsibility for sales, marketing and agribusiness functions at Rural Bank, and prior to 2013 led the capital management, finance business partner, investor relations and corporate affairs teams for Rural Bank’s parent, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank. He grew up on his family’s wheat and sheep farm in the mid-north of South Australia. Will was a 2017 Churchill Fellow, investigating alternative finance structures for Australian family farmers. He is a non-executive director of Community Insurance Solutions Pty Ltd, and Chairman of the SA Dairy Industry Fund. He is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, and holds an MBA from the University of Adelaide.

Prof. Susan Brumby

Sue is the Founding Director of the National Centre for Farmer Health – an innovative partnership between Western District Health Service and Deakin University, Australia. Prior to joining the NCFH Sue was Director of Community Services at Western District Health Service. Her research interests are farmer health, rural health literacy and increasing cultural competency around agricultural health and medicine for health and agricultural professionals. Sue is a graduate of the Australian Rural Leadership program, holds a Diploma in Farm Management, and completed a Masters in Heath Management in 2004.

Georgie Somerset

An experienced rural leader and regional strategist, Georgie is a director of the ABC, the Royal Flying Doctor Service Qld Section, Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service, Deputy Chair of AgForce Queensland Farmers and chair of the Red Earth Community Foundation, as a well as a range of community roles. She chairs the National Farmer’s Federation Telecommunications and Social Policy Committee as well as the AgForce Telecommunications Committee, and was a member of the 2015 Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee. Georgie produces beef with her family in the South Burnett.


Prof. David Lamb

David is a physicist whose research interests include applied optics and precision agriculture. David leads the University of New England’s SMART Farm project and the Precision Agriculture Research Group (UNE-PARG), and recently completed a national review of telecommunications challenges and opportunities for Australian agriculture. He is a Science Director in the CRC for Spatial Information and a member of the National Positioning Infrastructure Advisory Board. David currently serves as Australian representative for the International Society for Precision Agriculture. In 2016 he received the McClymont Distinguished Professorship (Research) at UNE.

Prof. Ian Yule

Ian started his career as a lecturer in Agricultural Engineering at Durham Agricultural College in the UK. In 2000 he became the Director of the New Zealand Centre for Precision Agriculture and was made Professor in Precision Agriculture in 2011. He holds a PhD in Agricultural Engineering and has a passion for remote and hyperspectral sensing. Ian’s work is at the forefront of developing practical applications for remote sensing and imaging that has worked towards NZ’s largest jointly-funded remote sensing project – the Pioneering to Precision PGP Project.

Prof. Alexander McBratney

Alex leads one of the strongest university-based research groups on soil resource assessment internationally, working on the basic theoretical, methodological and applied aspects. He pioneered in the development and formalised the concept of digital soil mapping and is currently pursuing a new integrative concept, namely that of Soil Security, which – recognising the interacting biophysical, economic, social and policy dimensions – attempts to secure soil for global sustainability.


Lara Ladyman

Lara is a director of her family’s farming business, Tennisdale Grazing, a 5680-hectare diversified cropping and livestock business, with operations at Katanning and King Lake in Western Australia. She returned to the farm full-time in 2014 after a career in agricultural journalism and still works as a freelance journalist. Lara is undertaking a Nuffield Scholarship focused on understanding the dramatic changes predicted to occur throughout the food production chain over the next two decades, and what that will mean for farmers in an increasingly digital world.

James Hutchinson & Tyler Ye

James Tyler is a next generation distributor designed to meet the needs of the booming Daigou, eCommerce and O2O channels in China. The engine room behind this sales system is a ‘foreign farm to Chinese table’ cold chain system that includes all of the green channel certifications and processes required for fresh products in China. Supporting this green channel is an ordering and tracking APP that offers fresh seafood, dairy, meat and summer fruit products for any Chinese agent specialising in digital sales. As of February 2018, they have delivered more than 140,000 parcels in China.


Date And Time

13-06-2018 09:00 AM to



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