In March 2018, delegates travelled from all across Australia to attend the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) annual Outlook conference in Canberra. ABARES is the research arm of the Australian Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.
ABARES Chief Commodity Analyst, Peter Gooday, addressed the conference and confirmed a positive forecast for the agriculture industry till at least 2022–23. Predictions in the next five years exceed $63 billion for production and more than $50 billion for farm exports. These predictions solidifies the ongoing importance of the agricultural sector to national GDP.
However, it is integral that Australia remains competitive and innovative to go above and beyond this goal. President of the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF), Fiona Simson, challenged the industry to be more ambitious. The NFF has a vision for agriculture to be a $100 billion by 2030, a target that is also supported by the Agriculture and Water Resources Minister, Hon David Littleproud. Ms Simson believes that “for agriculture to reach its potential, improvements and innovations across the supply chain were required”.
The 2018 conference brought together Australia’s leading researchers and agribusinesses to focus on just this, with the overall topic: ‘Creating value in an increasingly connected world.’
AgriDigital CEO, Emma Weston, ventured to our nation’s capital to be part of a panel that looked at the future of food choices, demand, and distribution. The session explored how technology and societal developments could impact decisions made pre and post-farmgate, all the way to the consumer. Emma’s presentation focused on how technology is changing trust, transparency, and security in agri-supply chains.
Transforming a ‘supply chain’ to a ‘value chain’
Emma explored the disruptive technologies we see emerging in almost every industry and explained their application in the agriculture sector. Her main points focused on:
Digitisation means that anyone, anywhere, anytime can access the information they need to run their business or to make informed decisions; it can be done in the field and, most importantly, it is available in real time. Digital trust is enabled via the convergence of technologies that are largely cloud-based or dependent. Digitisation of data, workflows, communication, and finance is providing the bedrock for the enabling of a number of other technologies.
Internet of Things
Smart devices, sensors and other devices like drones provide us with information about the state, location and quality of our physical environment, workplace, and goods. Our supply chains are quickly becoming webbed with connected devices, and this will be one of the primary ways we interact with the world around us, keep parity between the physical and digital worlds and maintain integrity in our datasets.
The use of robotics and swarm technologies in production agriculture and broader forms of AI is already well underway, and in many cases is proving more reliable and accurate to human intelligence and labour, whether that is playing a chess game or the identification and eradication of weed species.
Augmented and Virtual Reality
AR and VR are not just for gamers; the ability to engage in augmented or virtual versions of the real world can create empathy and engagement. AR/VR is already being used by consumers to make more informed and contextualised purchasing decisions as well as earlier in the chain for crop management and monitoring and as a diagnostic tool in livestock care.
Algorithmically driven descriptive, prescriptive and predictive analytics transforms big data into actionable insights. Traditional Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems already integrate and update core business data, but the more significant transformation and trust factor will come from distributed data sets that give us deep insight across the whole supply chain.
And that brings us to Blockchain…
Blockchain is a new-age form of ledger or data store that is cryptographically secured in a way that creates a tamper-proof or immutable record that underpins the digital trust model. For many, blockchain remains more theoretical. AgriDigital’s pilot projects and proofs of concept with the technology have demonstrated how blockchain can improve trust, traceability and security for the supply chain. You can read more about our 2017 blockchain pilot with CBH Group here and our proof of concept with Rabobank here.
Technology is rapidly transforming our supply chains. Today’s linear chains are becoming digitised, modular and mobile. Tomorrow’s supply chains have the potential to become trust webs where trade, finance, and data flows converge and can be leveraged across the network. Digital trust is at the heart of this and it is inclusive, pervasive and embedded. It’s also interactive and empowering for all participants who embrace it.
Emma’s Highlights from Outlook 2018
One of the standout presentations was around the work being conducted by Myriota and their nano-satellite small packet data service. Their Business Development Executive, Tom Rayner, explored the issue of connectivity in rural areas, which remains a considerable obstacle for farmers when looking to adopt new technologies. Myriota’s mini-satellites, that can fit in the palm of your hand, work to address this crucial hurdle.
Hayley Purbrick, from Tahbilk Wines in Victoria also gave a fascinating presentation on Innovating Sustainability and Profit. Purbrick discussed how technology impacted the business model for her family’s winery and demonstrated how a data driven approach enabled improvements in business communications and transactions and drove many of the insights that contributed to Tahbilk becoming an accredited Carbon Neutral Winery.
Ultimately, ABARES Outlook 2018 was equally stimulating and relevant, demonstrating how smart business and new technologies will be the driving force behind Australian agriculture’s competitiveness on a global scale.