Connectivity key for digital agriculture

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Digital agriculture technologies could increase farm value output by $20.3 billion per year, but improved connectivity is key, a new paper says.

The research identified key areas for increased digital use on farms including decision support, monitoring and sensors and robotics and automation

A joint paper has outlined ways in which the agriculture industry can better capitalise on digital connectivity and how farmers can better maximise digital technologies in their operations. 

The research, a joint initiative between the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF), the National Broadband Network (nbn) and Charles Sturt University (CSU), suggests further digitisation will be imperative in unlocking the sector’s $100 billion aim by 2030, with agriculture in Australia finding itself ‘on the brink of a digital transformation’. 

"The National Farmers Federation’s target for Australian agriculture to tally $100 billion by 2030, relies on farmers successfully capturing the transformative opportunities of digital agriculture," NFF president Fiona Simson says. 

"It’s now time to focus on increasing the digital literacy of our regional communities and to increase the awareness of the exciting future of digital agriculture."

The paper concluded that that the full adoption of digital agriculture has the potential to increase farm value output by $20.3 billion per year, with two-thirds of that figure achieved through internet-based systems.

More specifically, research by the nbn outlines the areas where farmers can better harness the digital disruption. Digital technologies can have the most influence in the area of decision support, which boasts a productivity growth potential of $8 billion.

Other key areas identified included monitoring and sensors, which possesses a productivity growth potential value of $4.3 billion; and robotics and automation, with a value of $3.3 billion.  

Federal Communications minister Paul Fletcher says these key areas have enormous potential for the future. 

"We know that digital technologies offer vast potential to support our agricultural producers to grow their businesses, create jobs and enhance the economy," Fletcher says.

"Capabilities such as remote monitoring, automation and a wide range of others can drive efficiency and productivity for our agricultural sector – lifting its value from $60 billion to $100 billion by 2030. 

"That is why the Australian Government is committed to supporting the sector, including by improving connectivity in regional Australia." 

Paramount to achieving the NFF’s goals for improved digital connectivity on farms across the country is the installation of reliable internet connections – a fact highlighted in research which found 75 per cent of increased farm production is directly attributable to internet connected digital infrastructure.

Quoted in the paper, Australian Farm Institute general manager Katie McRobert also confirms connectivity has been a roadblock at present. 

"Connectivity and capacity are significant stumbling blocks on the path to realising the full productivity gains which digital solutions offer the sector," she says. 

"To address this, acceleration of both digital infrastructure investment and tech adoption incentivisation should be focus areas of equal importance for decision-makers."

To help resolve this, the nbn has committed over $2 billion in improving digital connectivity in rural parts of the country. 

It has also announced a new three-year partnership with the NFF to focus on education and awareness of digital agriculture for Australian farming businesses. 

An NFF member study outlined some of the challenges faced by the industry with regard to on-farm connectivity. Just 36 per cent of respondents had adopted new connectivity enhancing solutions on farm while 25.5 per cent had attempted to adopt such technology albeit unsuccessfully.

A further 16.5 per cent of respondents say they have not adopted any new solution and have no plan to do so. 

Nbn chief development officer – regional and remote, Gavin Williams says while obvious connectivity will allow farmers to better enhance the use of digital technologies, further collaboration between parties is also needed. 

"Harnessing the digital agricultural revolution is the next big opportunity for Australian agriculture with a new generation of connected tools enabling things like remote sensing and automation, which will help farmers save time, grow productivity and make more informed decisions," Williams says. 

"The key to unlocking this digital agriculture revolution is on-farm connectivity, not just at the homestead but out in the paddock.  Much of this connectivity is available today through the nbn network. 

"We need more collaboration between farmers, technology vendors and network operators to educate farmers about what is available, the future possibilities and to lift their digital skills to make the most of the digital revolution.  

"Combined with our new three-year partnership, this paper is the next step of the journey. Our aim is that together we can achieve full digital adoption across Australia’s farming industry."


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