Digital Farmers Conference: Bringing AgTech To Life

June 15th, 2018

Digital Farmers conference, Sydney, 14 June 2018

This week I attended the Australian Farm Institute’s conference Digital Farmers: Bringing AgTech To Life, held in Sydney on 13 – 14 June.

The conference focused on the impact of digital agriculture on people across the agricultural sector (including farmers, farm workers, technology developers), as well as on rural communities, students and consumers.  The conference also explored how people, relationships and culture influence the development and use of digital technologies in agriculture.

Here are some of the key themes that stood out for me.

The evolving agtech / start-up culture in Australia

  • New approaches to innovation are emerging in Australian agriculture, with greater involvement of start-ups and venture capital investors.  This is bringing together new players in the Australian agricultural innovation system.
  • With these changes comes a culture gap between the traditional and the new players, which needs two-way dialogue to help overcome these boundaries.
  • Sarah Nolet from AgThentic identified four principle for bringing together enterprenuers and technology developers in the agtech context: (i) Turn talent into founders; (ii) Turn experts into champions to help support founders; (iii) Turn problems into opportunities, based on understanding of customer needs; and (iv) Build on Australia’s strengths (including producer-led innovation to solve Australian problems) don’t try to be another Silicon Valley.

Design with, not for

  • Many speakers emphasised the need to understand farmers’ (or clients/customers) needs and problems in order to design appropriate solutions. This was summarised by Kate Devitt from QUT as ‘Design with, not for.’
  • Emma Leonard from AgriKnow identified the mismatch between technology developers’ aim and farmers’ needs as a key barrier to greater uptake of digital technology in agriculture.
  • Technology needs to be easy, reliable and add to current methods.

People and relationships matter

  • Dough Fitch from Agworld emphasised the importance of human capital and changing relationship and engagement styles in the agtech space. He highlighted the need for two way communication and collaboration between agtech developers and clients, in order to create a convergence of vision, mission and expectations.
  • David Jochinke, President of the Victorian Farmer Federation stated that the proprietary approach to agtech has not been successful and that working together is vital to increase trust.
  • Emma Leonard noted that farmers like to learn from others and in conjunction with their trusted advisors.
  • Andrew Fowler, Chairman of Nuffield Australia, suggested that the agtech sector would benefit from greater collaboration with grower groups, to help drive research at the local level and share knowledge, which is vital when learning about new practices or technologies.

Ongoing barriers

  • Lack of interoperability, cost of investing in new technologies, limitations of digital connectivity in rural and regional areas and the need to build levels of digital literacy were all identified as ongoing barriers to greater uptake of agtech.
  • David Jochinke noted that farmers want to be rewarded for sharing their data.  He suggested that the lack of a code of practice around data sharing in Australia was a key barrier to improving the trust needed for farmers to be comfortable with sharing their data.

Communication via social media

  • Twitter and other social media platforms provide an important opportunity for great connections and conversations within and beyond the agricultural sector.
  • Verity Morgan-Schmidt, CEO of Farmers for Climate Action, emphasised the opportunity to use social media platforms to mobilise and galvanise support and empower and connect farmers and rural communities.

By Emma Jakku, Digiscape Social Dimensions project leader