Farming poised to go high-tech

Friday, 02 October 2020

Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel has welcomed the release of a report on the future of technology in Australian agriculture.

The Future of Agricultural Technologies report notes that technologies such as robots, artificial intelligence, and connectivity through the internet of things have the power to transform farming practices. The adoption of new technologies will help Australian farmers adapt to significant challenges, open new markets and create job opportunities.

Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud said the report will help to inform development under the National Agricultural Innovation Agenda announced on 1 September.

“This comprehensive body of work makes it abundantly clear that strategic investment in the development of new tech is critical if agriculture is to stay ahead of the game,” Minister Littleproud said.

“Australian farmers already have some of the most advanced farming practices in the world, and the findings of this report confirm the importance of ensuring farmers and businesses on-farm have easy access to innovative technologies into the future along the supply chain.

“This report aligns with our Digital Foundations for Agriculture Strategy that will set the foundations for the widespread uptake of digital technologies across agriculture, forestry and fisheries.”

Dr Finkel said change in farm technology must be more than incremental.

“Australia’s diverse agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector is a $69 billion industry, delivering significant benefits for our nation – particularly at a time where our economy is facing unprecedented challenges,” Dr Finkel said.

“However, reaching the Government’s goal of $100 billion by 2030 will likely require widespread adoption of technological advancements.”

Agriculture is facing a dual challenge. The urgent problem of climate change is making itself felt for farmers as more pressure on water resources and increasingly frequent and more severe weather events. They need ways to increase yield and use land more efficiently.

At the same time, the world has more mouths to feed and a booming middle class. The food-production industry is huge and increasing year on year. It is focused on technologies that produce food more efficiently, with a lower environmental footprint and with consumer health front of mind.

New technologies have the potential to answer these challenges, and Australia is also in a position to pioneer technologies to meet global demand.

“With technology, we can continue to enjoy sustainable, productive agricultural landscapes that coexist with pristine rivers,” Dr Finkel said. “In short, the way we farm is changing, and precision is the watchword.”

Already, Australian farmers are working with sensor technology to measure water salinity, and to monitor soil and crop growth. Sensors have also been developed to monitor the location of stock, and create virtual fences, steering animals to where the farmer wants them. Robots are using for precision spraying and weeding.

“Historically, Australian producers have been rapid adopters of innovation, and these emerging technologies will help our agriculture sector to transform and tackle current and future challenges,” Dr Finkel said.

Dr Finkel commissioned the report on behalf of the National Science and Technology Council, with support from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. It was released on Tuesday 29 September.

The report is the fifth report from the Australian Council of Learned Academies in the Horizon Scanning series. Other reports have focussed on synthetic biology, precision medicine, energy storage, and artificial intelligence. A sixth report, on the internet of things, is in progress.

Last updated: Tuesday, 06 October 2020