High-tech farming: the changing face of agtech Down Under

Harnessing digital technology to drive productivity and profits. How new-generation agtech is changing the face of Australian farming.

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The digital revolution continues to deliver new opportunities for Australian farmers to boost productivity and profits, NAB Agribusiness Customer Executive Neil Findlay writes.

After spending three decades working directly with primary producers and agribusinesses around Australia, I can say one thing with confidence – they’re a smart and switched-on bunch.

The drive to do things more economically and efficiently has long been a hallmark of our country’s 85,000-plus farm businesses and the many and varied rural enterprises that service them.

Judicious uptake of agtech innovations has helped Australia’s agribusinesses hold their own in a competitive global market, while maintaining a reputation that’s second to none for delivering high-quality, clean produce to the domestic and export markets.

In recent years, we’ve seen the pace of change escalate, as rapidly evolving digital technologies create a plethora of opportunities for businesses to improve their terms of trade. Assessing what’s available and deciding on the right time to invest is no easy task.

Here are five of the key tools and technologies we see customers deploying to help them forge more profitable and sustainable futures.

  1. More information equals better decisions

Harnessing the power of data is allowing farmers to obtain a far more granular view of their operations than was possible in the past. Livestock are being tracked electronically through every stage of the production cycle; their weight, growth, medication and sale prices. This is recorded via farm management software that allows producers to monitor every animal in the herd. It’s leading to the demise of the traditional approach of ‘farming by feel’ as access to this wealth of information opens up a whole new world.

  1. Eyes in the sky – satellite and imaging technology

Driving out in the ute with a dog or several in the tray to check the pastures is still the norm for many primary producers, but for others it’s becoming a thing of the past. They’re increasingly looking at satellite imaging and mapping technologies to do the job remotely. Data collected can be fed into sophisticated algorithms that measure the feed on offer and growth rates in individual paddocks. This vital information is being used to inform a host of decisions on grazing rotations, irrigation schedules and the application of nutrients; all aimed at maximising precision and productivity.

  1. Doing more with drones

The cost of drones continues to fall, while the reliability of the technology has improved significantly recently. Originally viewed as a gimmick or toy by some, commoditisation of the hardware has Australian agribusinesses experimenting with a range of uses, from crop planting and spraying through to uploading cattle images in situ to online auction sites. We’ll continue to see new applications emerge as more farmers find ways to exploit the potential of unmanned craft to drive efficiencies across the production cycle.

  1. The automation advantage

Automation is cutting a swathe through dozens of Australian industries including agriculture, where labour has long been one of the biggest costs. Drones, sensors and Internet of Things devices are eliminating much of the toil historically associated with life on the land. We’re seeing increasing automation of the production process, beyond the farm gate, with working smarter not harder becoming more than a mantra – it’s a reality for those agribusinesses incorporating automation into their operations.

  1. Hitching fortunes to the connected cloud

Mention the word ‘cloud’ to a clutch of farmers a decade ago and it would likely signal the start of that perennial country conversation about rainfall, or lack thereof. No longer. The connected cloud – the infrastructure model that treats computing power as a resource or utility – underpins many of the high-tech developments transforming the face of Australian agriculture – a fact not lost on farmers. In 2019, they’ll continue to transform themselves into a tech-savvy bunch with the knowledge and nous to steer some of the country’s longest standing and most traditional businesses towards a flourishing digital future.

Backing agri-innovation at moments that matter

As Australia’s leading agribusiness bank, NAB has a long history of helping farmers and agribusiness owners fund technology that can improve their efficiency, profitability and yield. Our deep experience enables us to work with customers to evaluate the business case for solutions and equipment they want to acquire and identify the optimum funding vehicle.

In instances involving the acquisition of major plant and equipment that could be asset finance, while for software projects and on-farm improvements we might apply traditional loan facilities.

We take great pride in the fact that we’re more than just bankers.

Very often, we act as trusted advisers to our agribusiness clients, in partnerships that can span generations. Farmers are a collegial group and our team regularly brings them together to exchange experiences and information about smart equipment and systems that are new to the market.

First-hand knowledge is so valuable and being able to play this role of conduit is one of the most rewarding aspects of our work.

While the times may be changing at a rapid pace, one thing never will – our commitment to standing behind a sector that’s pivotal to Australia’s growth and prosperity.