More than three years ago, economic analysis performed by the Australian Farm Institute revealed that with maturity, the implementation of digital agriculture across all production sectors could lift the GVP of agriculture by $20.3 billion – a 25% increase on 2014–15 levels. The ag tech and innovation space both domestically and globally have significantly evolved during this time period, so how much progress has been made to achieving this 25% increase and what gaps, if any, remain?
In 2017, the AFI participated in the Accelerating Precision Agriculture to Decision Agriculture (P2D) research project. The aim of this project was primarily focused on how technology and data impact on-farm decision-making by:
- evaluating the current state of digital agriculture in Australia
- modelling potential future economic benefits
- making recommendations to realise these potential economic gains at the farm gate.
This research project was the first of its kind to include all 15 Research Development Corporations (RDCs) as well as several research institutes. Subsequently, the research took a whole-of-agriculture approach and explored opportunities for improved cross-sectoral industry research collaboration. The 2018 Autumn edition of the Farm Policy Journal featured a range of papers which are abridged versions of the reports undertaken as part of the P2D project.
The report defines decision agriculture as: ‘analysis of digital farm data along with other relevant digital datasets such as soils and environmental data which leads to improved data-driven decision-making by farmers and enables the use of data-driven technology’. That is, the project aimed not only to improve technology adoption but also for farmers and the sector to realise the benefits of efficient use of data in their technology choices.
A main component of the work the AFI conducted as part of this multi-organisation project was the economic analysis of the ‘size of the prize’ of fully enabled decision agriculture. By quantifying the potential economic gain and analysing the impact on inhibitors, the project was able to provide a strategic, high-level overview of the broad opportunities for industry and government to invest. The estimation of the potential $20.3 billion opportunity of fully implemented and matured digital ag adoption provides a significant avenue for the sector to achieve the goal of a $100 billion industry by 2030.
More than three years on from the P2D research, the agricultural technology landscape has continued to adapt and change. Initiatives have been developed and investment into the decision agriculture space has been made. Some of the outcomes and policy changes following from the key findings of the P2D research project are discussed further below.
LEADERSHIP: A key finding of the P2D research was a need for greater leadership in digital agriculture, including policy, governance, strategy and cross-sector collaboration. The recent implementation of the National Agricultural Innovation Agenda (NAIA) is a step in the right direction to achieving greater leadership and collaborative action on decision agriculture.
DATA STANDARDS: Another key finding of the research was that legal and regulatory frameworks were piecemeal and ad hoc, with 56% of farmers indicating little to no trust in providers of services/technology to maintain data privacy. Industry action has also been taken in this area through the development of the Australian Farm Data Code by the National Farmers’ Federation in consultation with industry. The Code aims to ensure farmers have comfort in how their data is managed, used and shared to encourage the implementation of digital technology.
Following the Open Banking Review in July 2017, the Federal Government legislated a Consumer Data Right (CDR) to give Australians greater control over their data. However, there is uncertainty as to whether these rights address farmers’ concerns relating to data and their privacy. It remains relatively unknown as to whether farmers feel more confident with the implementation of the CDR and whether adoption of decision agriculture has improved as a result.
CONNECTIVITY: Investment in infrastructure for connectivity in rural areas was concluded as a key barrier in the full implementation of digital agriculture. Approximately 55% of producers reported in the P2D research that they relied on the mobile phone network for internet, yet 43% had patchy or no mobile reception across their property. In response to the 2018 Regional Telecommunications Review, the Regional Connectivity Program was established and aims to provide up to $83 million to target place-based telecommunications infrastructure projects to maximise economic and social opportunities in regional, rural and remote communities. The Review noted that while a dramatic improvement in connectivity was being reported by service providers, the lived experience of respondents was much less positive.
From this brief look at some of the key P2D project findings, it is apparent that progress has been made but there is still a long way to go to fully realising the benefits of decision agriculture in Australia, including seeing benefits from investments filter down to agricultural businesses on the ground. It’s reassuring to see the implementation of the NAIA and hopeful that leadership in this space may continue to progress adoption of decision agriculture.
Organisations involved in the P2D project: CRDC, FRDC, Dairy Australia, Australian Wool Innovation Limited, AgriFutures Australia, AMPC, Forest & Wood Products Australia, Australian Eggs, Australian Pork Limited, Sugar Research Australia, LiveCorp, GRDC, Wine Australia, MLA, Horticulture Innovation Australia, CSIRO, Australian Farm Institute, University of New England, Griffith University, University of Southern Cross, CSIRO Data 61, Data to Decisions CSIRO.