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Technology in agriculture critical to success

Adoption of emerging technologies in Australian agriculture is expanding at a rate faster than the consumer’s capacity to understand the opportunities — creating an urgent need to explore community perception and regulatory challenges around the use of new technologies.

This is the focus of two new AgriFutures Australia-funded reports: Emerging technologies in agriculture: Consumer perceptions around emerging agtech undertaken by GHD and AgThentic and Emerging technologies in agriculture: Regulatory and other challenges by ACIL Allen Consulting.

The reports deliver critical insights for government, industry and Rural Research and Development Corporations in the areas of regulation and community perceptions. They consider changes needed to safeguard industry use of new technologies and point out the opportunity cost of getting it wrong.

Robotics, for example, can reduce producer operating costs. For a farm investing $100,000 per annum on insecticides, herbicides, and fertilisers, it is claimed that robots could reduce these costs by up to 40 per cent due to the bots’ ability to spread chemicals in precise locations and in optimum volumes.

The value-add is clear, however ACIL Allen’s research reveals farmers need guidance to help demystify common concerns accompanying the use of robotics, such as insurance, ethics, standards and data ownership and protection.

Meanwhile, research conducted by GHD and AgThentic revealed there is confusion and scepticism around blockchain amongst primary producers, as it is often associated with cryptocurrencies. These perceptions can lead to barriers to adoption which in turn effect consumers.

Understanding and, where possible, proactively identifying and mitigating perception issues is critical to ensure farmers continue to adopt beneficial technologies, while consumers have confidence and trust in the way their food and fibre goods are produced.

AgriFutures Australia managing director, John Harvey, insists Australian agriculture needs to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to understanding the potential regulatory impact of technologies, and possible negative perceptions that might prevent technology use.

“With the sector likely to increase its reliance on new technologies over the short to medium term, it’s important not to become complacent by assuming we will always have free and easy access to new technologies,” said Harvey.

“These reports offer clear actions to help industry and government understand what needs to be done to support agtech adoption on our farms.

“If we don’t address these actions, the sector may be locked out of emerging technologies or be unable to capitalise on opportunities that our international competitors have access to. The reports are instrumental in identifying what the challenges and impediments are and provide practical solutions in areas that will have the greatest impact.”

AgriFutures Australia senior manager, business development, Jennifer Medway said the reports promote the need for industry, government and agribusiness to proactively engage with consumers to identify possible concerns early to overcome adoption bottlenecks.

“We take the role of helping to prepare industry for what is coming seriously, and keeping our finger on the pulse to proactively address issues as they arise is key to this,” said Medway


Agriculture scholarship applications open for university students

Applications for the AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship are now open for students studying an agriculture-related degree and are in their last two years of study.

The scholarship, in the partnership with industry sponsors, provides a $5,000 bursary and professional development opportunities for eligible university students.

The AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship also offers students annual industry work placements, access to industry leaders, professional development assistance and opportunities to network and gain knowledge at a range of industry events.

In 2019 there are some small but important changes to the program:

  • The scholarship will now be awarded for the last two years of the successful student’s degree; this change is aimed to increase networking opportunities and pathways into careers in agriculture
  • Eligible agriculture related degrees now include Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths (STEM) degrees with major studies and subject selections relevant and aligned to agriculture
  • Students studying traditional agriculture degrees such as rural science, animal science and agribusiness are also eligible
  • Students studying in faculties that support the prosperity of rural industries, such as logistics, communications and IT, who are passionate about a career in an agriculture, are also eligible.

AgriFutures Australia recognises there is a broad range of skills which contribute to all areas of rural industries, and are looking to attract those skilled individuals into careers in agriculture. Fostering collaboration across multiple disciplines contributes to a growing Horizon Scholar Alumni entering the workforce.

Providing networking and professional development opportunities, along with valuable industry placements, sees Horizon Scholars beginning their careers in agriculture with direction and readiness.

AgriFutures Horizon Scholar, Matt Champness, graduated in 2018 from Charles Sturt University and was an Agricultural Science medalist. He is set to depart for Lao this year to continue his research in weed management, and reflects on his time in the program.

“Without a doubt, the scholarship broadened my horizons and exposed me to so many opportunities that I didn’t know existed. It also connected me with like-minded young people from across Australia.”

During his time on the scholarship program, Champness participated in the 2018 Crawford Fund Conference, the National Farmers Federation (NFF) 2030 Leadership Program and co-founded ‘This is Aus Ag’- a grassroots initiative aiming to build trust between farmers and consumers.

“The most enjoyable part about the program was seeing others grow and develop in their confidence.

“The AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship provides an opportunity for students to collaborate with other young agricultural enthusiasts from various walks of life,” said Mr Champness.

Students must be entering their last two years of university to be eligible for the scholarship. All applicants must have commenced their tertiary studies no longer than two years after leaving high school.