Right now there’s 10,000 people driving around Aussie farms checking water. That’s 40,000 tires, a massive carbon output and sadly, a high chance of a farm accident occurring. We’ll do it all over again tomorrow, the next day and beyond.
Now picture this scene instead. It's 6am and you’re having a cuppa with brekkie while you check the water on your property. Are you driving around spilling coffee while you do it? Are you paying someone else to cover a well-worn water route? No, you’re ensuring everything’s in order via the water monitoring technology on your phone.
It’s hard not to get excited about the next generation of agritech businesses hitting the market - and Australian AgriTech Association chairman Andrew Coppin agrees. AusAgritech is an open and inclusive membership-based association established to foster a world-class agritech ecosystem and help create a prosperous future for Australian agrifood innovation.
Agritech is a $500 billion a year sector globally. In Australia the National Farmers’ Federation target is $100 billion in farm output by 2030. AusAgritech aims to see $20 billion of that figure coming from the development and deployment of agritechnology in Australian paddocks.
With a host of technologies hitting the market, Andrew’s confident we can reach that target - if farmers are supported to take the plunge. While thousands of farmers across the country have already adopted one, or several, forms of agritech into their businesses, Andrew says there’s one factor that’s still a barrier for many.
“I’ve never met a farmer with time on their hands or one with a bottom on their to-do list,” he says.
“Farmers are very busy people so when they’re putting their cattle through the crush because that’s what they’ve always done, they’ve got the people and the technology to do it, and then they’re getting a call from this bloke Bill at Optiweigh, for example, telling them they could have a walk over weigh system in the paddock - they know that’s smart but when are they actually going to get to it?
“So it’s about this challenge of finding the right time, the right initiative, the right incentive to get farmers to take the risk of making the change at a time when they’ve got capital and the time to say ‘Okay, I know the short-term inconvenience will be surpassed by the long-term benefit’.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just a matter of the older generation being stuck in their ways when it comes to adopting new technologies. In his role as CEO of Farmbot Monitoring Solutions, Andrew’s been approached by farmers aged in their 70s at Beef Week and when asked if they’d like to hear about the latest in water monitoring he’s been met with surprising, albeit amusing, responses.
“I’ve had a 75-year-old bloke say ‘Mate, get stuffed, I’ve already got ten of those things and they’re great,” Andrew laughs.
“And then I’ll have a young bloke walk past and say ‘nah I like driving around, always done it’ so I think the old school gets a bit of a hard rap.”
Ultimately, Andrew says it comes down to people being prepared to be early adopters and risk takers. And in an industry of risk takers he jokes you’d have to be ‘half-crazy’ to be in any way, farmers just need to start - anywhere.
“The road to innovation and to helping not only build a successful agritech ecosystem, but also to supporting farmers, is just to take action,” he says.
“As a farmer, start somewhere. Take the plunge, believe it could be true and think about what could happen if everything goes right.
“How good could this be?”
Excited? We are too, so we asked Andrew to give you the lowdown on 10 of the newest recruits to AusAgritech.
Ceres Tag is one of the world’s most comprehensive animal monitoring platforms and the world’s first direct to satellite animal information platform. Its proprietary smart ear tag monitors for biosecurity, health, welfare, performance and traceability provenance of the supply chain network including theft detection. Ceres Tag is also on track to be the world’s first accredited smart ear tag to international standards.
“It’s obviously leading-edge technology around the world so it’s still early days but it’s certainly a technology that some will say they won’t require, others will sit on the fence and maybe start with tracking one in 20, and others will say they absolutely cannot live without it.”
The portable Optiweigh unit is towed into the paddock, with molasses, a lick block or salt to entice cattle onto it. Stepping on they have their EID recorded and front feet weighed. This information is sent to the cloud and an algorithm applied to calculate total body weight. Liveweight information is updated multiple times daily and sent to any device type. Farmers receive a daily email each morning summarising the information gathered by the Optiweigh in the last 24hours. Saving in time and labour, and delivering the potential for higher returns and improved productivity, Andrew said Optiweigh is a game changer for livestock graziers.
Farmbot Monitoring Solutions
Andrews own company, Farmbot falls into the ‘on-farm technology camp’ and is a solutions provider, revolving around everything to do with water. Its range of monitoring devices allows you to check water, and trough levels, rainfall, flow and pressure rates remotely. Users receive SMS and email alerts when issues arise, or maximum or minimum water levels are breached. The alert triggers are set via the MyFarmbot platform which reliably collects, stores and reports data from multiple monitoring locations, from anywhere, anytime.
Pitched as a complete digital solution for corporate agriculture, The Yield offers everything from microclimate sensing to machine intelligence tools and an industry-leading data platform. It offers Sensing+, an end-to-end system for large-scale growing operations, combining sensors, data analytics and apps. From 7-day predictions to historical reports, custom notifications to crop scouting, Sensing+ helps you make better decisions that impact crop wellbeing and yield.
“They’re a data analysis company and data aggregation, looking at climate and data, and overlaying climate data with data about what’s actually happening in your paddock,” Andrew explains.
“It gives you the opportunity to optimize your production and better use your water, chemicals, and everything else that you need to produce the best crop that you can in the fastest time.”
Cibo Labs Pty Ltd is an agricultural data analytics company based in Toowoomba and Brisbane. The company was established in early 2018 with the mission to bring a completely new approach to monitoring Australia's grazing lands and produce more profitable farms and more sustainable landscapes. It uses world-leading science in remote sensing and machine learning (aka artificial intelligence) combined with on-farm knowledge to bring new levels of understanding in pasture productivity and land condition to every farm, paddock or field in Australia.
Sapien Technology is a technology partner providing individual animal management software and hardware solutions across the supply chain. It’s the producer of KoolCollect, an individual animal data collection tool for use in the yards. All the information on your animals is available when and where you need it. It allows you to record and track data for individual animals, log treatments for QA programs and drive auto-drafters based on multiple classing options.
“It allows you to go ‘right, now we’ve got the cow in front of us, how much weight has it gained, what treatments has it received and allows you to use specific data to make a decision – which animal to cull, sell or breed from” Andrew explains.
“It takes all the scanning data, reproductive information and pedigree and turns it into a full animal history for each individual so you can make informed decisions and improve your overall production in line with your goals.
Pairtree is a universal dashboard for your smart farms apps, data, sensors and software. Pairtree displays all of your farm data across your entire operation. The aggregated software platform centralises the key messages from your existing and future digital technology by combining those data feeds together.
“No farmer is going to want to juggle seven apps just to run the farm,” Andrew says.
“So if you want one central system that can talk to lots of different sensors, imagery and apps, then you might get Pairtree to be your hub. All layered on a single map which really simplifies the process.”
No phone coverage out in the paddock? No problem! The AgriWebb mobile app works seamlessly offline. Any records you create are saved on your device, ready to be synced to the cloud and shared with your coworkers when you’re next in range or connected to Wi-Fi. As a whole, Andrew said AgriWebb focuses on empowering farmers to produce more sustainable & profitable outcomes for livestock graziers and meat supply chains globally - with its Australian market-leading offering now established in Europe and the US - AgriWebb is delivering a top product in the farm management sphere.
One of the few companies worldwide with commercially available robots, the lightweight and autonomous machines are loaded with technology that allows new methods of crop production the company says is simply not possible on the back of a tractor. Capable of operating at optimal speed and whenever the conditions are suitable for the specific operation, SwarmBots can work on their own or cooperatively as a ‘swarm’ of units across the landscape.
“They’re a great company building smaller, autonomous robots that can basically work all night, work all day, spraying paddocks, picking weeds and doing things that are very manual,” Andrew says.
“It could just be mowing but it’s happening autonomously and ultimately, they’re doing all sorts of things where robots can be put to good use.”
Agrigital’s Waypath app is a global platform for grain growers which incorporates all aspects of the supply chain including contracts, deliveries, storage, payments and invoices. Available across multiple devices, the Waypath app gives farmers the flexibility to access and manage their data from anywhere and enables growers to track and trace every load of grain from paddock to payment.
“In the old days you’d have the truck driver write it down on a pad of paper and hand it to the next person and the next person and so on, so they’ve removed a large, incumbent process around tracking which is pretty important,” Andrew says.
And while they’re all incredible, stand alone initiatives, it's when used collaboratively that Andrew believes farmers will see the most benefit in their operation.
Add one company to your cart and now you know where your cattle are. Add another and you’re well-informed on the health of your grass and your soil moisture. Throw another two in and you can keep stock of your water levels and cattle weights remotely. Link them all together on your universal dashboard and Andrew says the data comes together to achieve precision grazing.
“Now farmers can say with confidence, ‘the right answer for this exact paddock is 14 days, four hours and 15 minutes until I’ve optimised all of its water, its grass and its capability and I will be overgrazing from that point on.”
“Some of these companies can be used in isolation but they come into their true power when they start collaborating and getting outcomes for Australian farmers - which is absolutely the primary goal for each and every one of them.”