The watch list

Published 24 Nov 2020

In each edition of the Insights newsletter, AFI staff recommend some of the gems that have caught their eye, sparked the imagination or challenged their thinking. Feel free share your interesting finds with us via [email protected] and we’ll update the watch list on our website. 

Richard’s picks:

Digital agriculture adoption 

In 2018, I was fortunate to attend events in both the US and Europe that focused on opportunities for digital agriculture. Significant differences in approach were evident as to how the potential benefits of digital agriculture would be realised. In Europe, the potential of technology to demonstrate the public good outcomes of agriculture was a major focus and EU agricultural policy measures to incorporate digital agriculture validation into farm payment systems were being canvassed. In the US, the approach was almost completely driven by commercial opportunity and technology development in many cases hinged on the likelihood of venture funding. The following two recent articles neatly encapsulate the difference between the two environments.

An accelerated transition towards a double-performance European agriculture

This post from think tank Farm Europe proposes significant spending towards democratisation of digital agriculture technology so that the twin purpose of improved environmental and economic performance of the agriculture sector may be demonstrated.

Look back in anger or disruption that incumbents can love – AgTech in the 2010s

In this article, Shubhang Shankar from Syngenta Ventures provides a fantastic summary of why successful commercialisation of digital agriculture has been slower than anticipated over the last 10 years and how that might be improved.

Richard Heath – Executive Director

Teresa’s picks: 

Inspiring female leaders in ag

Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons

Written by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonjo-lweala, this book combines findings from literature and interviews with female world leaders to analyse the influence of gender on women’s access to leadership positions. The authors also analyse women leaders’ trajectory and how they are perceived while in their roles. While reading this book, I often wondered how the insights apply to Australian agriculture. What barriers need to be broken down to achieve a doubling of women in agricultural management roles by 2030, as per the NFF Roadmap? What is currently holding women back, is gender-bias the main barrier or are other issues contributing more such as geographical isolation?

Growing Agri People Podcast: Claire Booth

Claire wears many hats and juggles many roles, including first generation farmer, lawyer, mother, and Nuffield scholar as well AFI Research Fellow. Growing Agri People is a podcast hosted by Sally Murfet from InspireAg and aims to connect listeners with people and ideas to grow human capital. In this episode Claire discusses her road to farm ownership as well as her Nuffield scholarship and the importance of financial literacy in farming. Claire’s story is inspirational and a great listen.

Claire Booth podcast image

Teresa Fox – Research and Communications Officer

Katie’s pick:

New ideas, old topic 

Debt: The First 5000 Years

As someone with firm views on debt (both financial and social) as an onerous obligation, I found this 2011 book by anthropologist David Graeber something of a revelation. It’s also a surprisingly engaging read given the weightiness of the topic. Debt takes a long, hard look at the romanticisation of barter, the elaborate systems of credit which evolved out of the early agrarian empires and dives down the rabbit hole of the development of money as a system of exchange. Graeber postulates that our framing of debt as a moral responsibility shapes our base ideas of right and wrong, and positions debt as the glue holding together society via mutual obligations – which may or may not be called in. Like Jesus storming through the market overturning tables, Graeber’s ideas tipped many of my perceptions on their heads. While I didn’t agree with all his assertions, I enjoyed being challenged and felt I was having an internal debate with a knowledgeable friend while reading this fascinating book. Sadly the author died this September, and I think the world of ideas will be poorer for his loss.

Debt book cover

Katie McRobert – General Manager

Kylie’s pick:

Can we eat meat and save the planet?

How Australia’s meat industry could be part of the climate solution

This Guardian article by Maxy Opray focuses on regenerative and biodynamic cattle farmer Charlie Arnott. During the Millennium Drought, Arnott looked at the loss of topsoil at his property in Boorowa, NSW and resolved to improve things. He now keeps his livestock together in larger groups and rotates them through pastures, allowing manure to fertilise the soil and hooves to churn up the ground before the pasture is left for an extended period to regenerate. He also stopped using chemicals on his land and animals, and planted trees across his property. Arnott believes his approach helped preserve grass cover through the latest drought and retained water from the eventual rains. He is adamant about the environmental and cost advantages of grass-fed cattle over feedlots. This article also discusses the livestock industry’s social licence in a carbon-constrained economy and references work by the AFI for the NFF on developing a market-based scheme to reward farmers for sustainable land management practices.

Kylie Smith – Events and Membership Officer

Sally’s pick:

Pathways for communication

Communicating Science: A Global Perspective

This book looks at global trends in science communication in the modern era, covering the story of researchers and field practitioners from 39 countries. Chapter 6 (Australia: The five stages of development of science communication), by Toss Gascoigne and Jenni Metcalfe, focuses on Australian science communication: from the oral traditions of Indigenous knowledge; through European settlement; establishment of the Radio Science Unit at the ABC; Questacon; CSIRO; university courses in science communication; and the creation of Cooperative Research Centres.

“Australians are proud of their scientists: in 1966 when the country moved to decimal currency, half the new bank notes featured portraits of scientists. But in political terms, science is a low priority, shuffled around from department to department and low on the ministerial totem pole. Supporting science is not seen a vote-winning policy.”

An interesting read on what has motivated governments, institutions and people to frame the place of science in society.

Communicating Science book cover

Sally Beech – Designer and Editor

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