DIGITAL AGRICULTURE : STRATEGY & CASE STUDIES

Team : AGRI-WARRIORS (B.VoC Agriculture-First year/Group-4)

What is digital agriculture?

Digital agriculture refers to the use of agriculture technology (AgTech) to integrate agricultural production from the paddock to the consumer. These technologies can provide the agricultural industry with the tools and information to make more informed decisions and improve productivity.

Trends driving digital technology in agriculture

Victoria’s farmers contribute one third of Australia’s food and fibre exports. Demand for Victorian produced food is set to grow as the world’s population increases from 7 billion to almost 10 billion over the next 30 years. A growing global middle class, particularly among our neighbours in Asia, is further bolstering the prospects for food and fibre export growth.

While demand is set to grow, farmers are facing the challenges of a changing climate. Increased temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns, more frequent extreme weather events, and reductions in water availability are already impacting the agriculture sector. In this environment, farmers must continue to innovate to maintain and improve productivity to meet demand.

Digital technologies have the potential to provide farmers with the information and ability to meet these challenges and seize opportunities for growth.

But it is not just about farmers. Consumers both at home and abroad are becoming more informed about the products they buy. They demand high quality and sustainably produced food and fibre, and want to know more about where their products come from. Digital technologies can enable improved traceability of agricultural products, providing peace of mind for consumers and increased value for farmers.

Opportunities

The promise digital agriculture holds for farmers is to provide better information they can use to make more informed decisions to improve farm performance.

Increasing agriculture production

The Australian Government’s Accelerating precision agriculture to decision agriculture project found that digital agriculture could lift the gross value of agriculture production in Australia by $20.3 billion, or 25 per cent on 2014-15 levels.

Regional development

Digital agriculture can also support regional communities. Younger generations are keen to work with technology. Through increasing use of digital technology, agriculture can attract and retain younger generations to live and work in regional and rural communities.

Digital agriculture provides an opportunity to create stronger regional and rural communities which are connected through the use of technology. This is a critical enabler for attracting and retaining local populations as well as start-ups and other businesses.

A key technology underpinning digital agriculture is sensor technology and the Internet of Things (IoT). Remote sensors can be deployed on farms to collect data on variables such as temperature, rainfall, humidity, wind speed, livestock tracking, and plant and animal health. This information can be relayed to farmers, to save time and cost from manual monitoring, provide greater insight into farm performance and improve farm decision making.

Examples

  • Robotics are being introduced to the dairy, poultry and beef farming industries. Applications include autonomous feeding and milking, egg collection and sorting, and autonomous cleaning. These technologies are reducing costs while helping early detection and treatment of animal health issues.

  • Less waste and higher yields are being generated by equipment programmed for variable seeding rates and depths based on soil property and moisture data, derived from satellite imagery.

  • Digital infra-red light and heat sensors combined with drones are used to measure paddock crop health to inform decisions about irrigation, pest management, fertiliser applications and harvesting.

  • Integrated digital animal health sensors and electronic identification devices enable farmers to rapidly respond to animal stress or disease, increasing livestock production and improving livestock health.

Barriers

Despite the potential benefits, agriculture is the least digitised industry in Australia. Agriculture Victoria has been talking with farmers and industry leaders to understand the barriers to greater uptake of digital technologies in agriculture.

Key barriers to adoption:

1 Connectivity:

Appropriate connectivity is fundamental to digital agriculture with digitised farms needing widespread and reliable coverage.

2 Digital literacy:

Many farmers have not had opportunities for practical learning and exposure to technology to identify the right technology options for their farm, or how to reliably use it.

3 Cost and investment rational:

The value of digital agriculture has not been proven to farmers. Demonstration of return on investment is needed to boost adoption rates.

4 Data sharing:

There is a lack of confidence in data privacy and security among farmers. Agreed data sharing protocols and governance arrangements are required to encourage the sharing of data across the value chain.

5 Interoperability of data sets:

It is currently difficult for farmers to analyse data generated from multiple technologies. The ability to incorporate diverse datasets into a shared platform would allow farmers to gain greater insights and benefits from digital technologies.

Boosting farmer capability :

More work needs to be done to demonstrate the value of digital technologies to Victorian farmers. We know our farmers are innovators and we want to make sure they have the skills needed to make the most out of technology.Formal learning opportunities will help address this need for future farmers. However, there is also a need to up skill those already working in the agriculture sector. This will enable a faster transition toward digital farming practices so that the full benefits of technology can be realized. Agriculture Victoria is developing a program to address skills gaps in agriculture, with a focus on enabling the adoption and use of digital technology. This includes linking Agriculture Victoria’s Smart Farms with industry to demonstrate the capability of Ag Tech, and with schools to promote technology-based careers in agriculture.


Case studies


1. Tatura Smart Farm

Agriculture Victoria’s Tatura SmartFarm will highlight and shape future fruit production systems for export markets, demonstrating high-impact agri-bioscience applications to improve productivity.

Innovations include:

• Fruit and tree identification systems to enhance in-orchard phenotyping and pest and disease management, improving data sharing and traceability for international markets;