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Beyond the Bale : September 2018
64 ON FARM TECHNOLOGIES TO SHAPE YOUR FARMING FUTURE Technology is rapidly changing many areas of agriculture – and AWI aims to ensure Australian woolgrowers are on the front foot to take advantage of the latest opportunities. AWI recently commissioned a series of workshops to hear from woolgrowers about the problems they want to solve with emerging and currently available technologies. The objective was to understand woolgrower perceptions of currently available technologies, as well as identify opportunities and challenges for enhanced AWI support of innovation and technology development and adoption. There were 71 wool industry participants at the workshops – in Dubbo (NSW), Dunkeld (Victoria) and Katanning (WA) – facilitated by two experienced campaigners in this area: Sarah Nolet from AgThentic and Mark Ferguson from neXtgen Agri. “Feedback from the workshops showed that woolgrowers are really interested in technology, especially for solutions that exist now,” Sarah said. “There was strong interest in receiving support for implementing and integrating current technologies better, and in learning about new technologies that could be implemented immediately.” Six examples of new technologies discussed during the workshop were sensors, big data, artificial intelligence (see opposite page), robotics (see page 68), gene editing (see page 49), and virtual and augmented reality (see page 35). WILLINGNESS TO WORK WITH AGTECH STARTUPS A key learning of the workshops was that, while current woolgrower interaction with agtech startups is limited/minimal, the majority of participants said they would be interested in working with entrepreneurs to help them solve problems that are relevant to the wool industry, such as by providing tips to increase adoption or pitfalls to avoid. A large majority of participants said they Three workshops with woolgrowers were held across Australia in June to help identify opportunities for AWI to support the development and adoption of technology in the wool industry. would even be willing to invest their own money (in a modest way, less than $20,000) in agtech startup companies working on relevant problems. There was overwhelming support in favour of making awareness of, and opportunities for interaction with, the startup ecosystem more widely available to woolgrowers. “One of the first agtech startups in the world that we discussed at the workshops is called Observant (https://observant.net), which comes from Australia,” Sarah said. “Established in 2003, the company provides technology solutions such as irrigation automation, monitoring, and alerting; crop condition reporting; cameras that monitor livestock water points, pump stations and sheds, and remote facilities; and technology that checks on the status of electric fences and alerts producers alerts when the fence voltage drops or the system detects any failures.” At each workshop, the woolgrowers were taken through an interactive exercise where they first identified areas where they commonly experience problems. The top five, in order of frequency, were: 1. Labour intensive systems, particularly: feeding, poor availability of labour, and wool handlers 2. Shearing 3. Connectivity, phone, internet coverage, etc. 4. Sheep data collection, accuracy and integrity (lack of automation), mainly: live weight, condition scoring, and reproduction 5. Monitoring and management of sheep welfare, especially during lambing “The key motivation that underpinned the woolgrowers’ problem areas was: how can technologies help us to do what we already do now, but make it easier and cheaper without our intervention?” Mark said. “So how would I condition score all my ewes without me having to have someone in the paddock doing that? How would I check my water points without sending something out there? How would I shift sheep from paddock to paddock without my intervention? “The real interest was how they would automate some of the processes, and how they could use these technologies without actually creating more work for themselves.” USING TECH TO BRIDGE THE URBAN-RURAL DIVIDE Sarah said that another common discussion point during the workshops was that the woolgrowers wanted to connect much more closely with the end-consumers of their products. This was perceived as having value from both the woolgrower knowing more about what happens once the wool leaves the farm, as well as providing an opportunity for the woolgrower to tell their authentic farming story to the end-consumer. “With technology such as websites and social media, producers are now able to talk about their farm and connect with consumers in a way that's never happened before,” Sarah explained. “I think that kind of bridging the urban-rural divide is a really positive benefit of technology.” Mark said that the accelerating pace of digital technology means that there are many potential opportunities for the sheep and wool industry. “For the first time we're seeing a lot of the technologies that used to look like they were miles away that are now near enough to our industry that we can actually see a purpose for them,” he said. More than 30 woolgrowers in Dunkeld discussing tech opportunities for the wool industry.
In the Shops - September 2018