Food Agility CRC to launch new AgTech Finder

By Gabrielle Stannus

The Food Agility Cooperative Research Centre’s new AgTech Finder online marketplace aims to help horticulturists and other producers access appropriate technological products and services to improve their business.

The Food Agility Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) is a $150 million plus innovation hub harnessing the power of digital technology to help the Australian agrifood industry be more globally competitive and sustainable. Their mission is to lead a digital revolution in food production and supply, focussing on livestock, cropping and horticulture.

Big data
One challenge the Food Agility CRC is trying to overcome is to enable producers, including horticulturists, to derive maximum benefit from big data.

“It is not accessing data that is the problem these days, it is knowing what to do with it,” says Megan Tudehope, the Food Agility CRC’s Marketing & Communication Manager. “The sheer volume is overwhelming and near impossible to analyse without digital technology. Put simply, data is invariably easier to generate than it is to use.”

Megan continues: “There are a range of digital tools that can help horticulturists to collect and analyse vast amounts of data and help them make better production or business decisions. Many of these are powered by complex algorithms painstakingly developed by scientists. They have done the hard yards in terms of data analysis. Your work is in choosing the right tools for your business, ensuring they are fit for purpose, that is the data makes sense, and keeping them running.”

Megan recommends the following digital tools to horticulturists:

  • ‘Whole-of-business’ tools can manage the business side of things, like finance, marketing, labour and production planning
  • Pest and disease management tools that help you to identify pests, diagnose disease symptoms and monitor the health of your plants. Robotics and image recognition technologies have come a long way in this field.
  • Weather and climate systems that can now monitor the microclimate of your nurseries/greenhouses, giving you site-specific information about the conditions.
  • Supply chain technologies that confirm the provenance of products and verify claims such as “organic” or “free-from”. These can also help you know what consumers want and adjust your business planning accordingly.
  • The right connectivity solution or combination of solutions. You need to think about on-site connectivity (how you will carry the data across your business) and backhaul (broadband) to help you use the tools to make sense of the data, that is to upload it via the internet and to download the insights.

AgTech Finder
The Food Agility CRC has developed an online platform that may help you access appropriate solutions for dealing with big data. AgTech Finder is an online marketplace for agricultural technology, with producers able to search for AgTech based on industry and problem. To be launched in the next couple of months, AgTech Finder will initially cover three industry sectors: horticulture, livestock and cropping.

“We are really excited about its potential to help horticulturists and many other Australian producers to make confident decisions about AgTech,” says Megan, “For many it will be their first foray into technologies which can be as simple as setting up a single weather station, to new sensors that monitor plants, animals, soils, water and pests, through to complex, whole-of-operation communications and data and business management systems. We have had hundreds of products listed so far and will open it up to new industry segments in the future”.

Megan continues: “AgTech Finder came about from our conversations with producers, including horticulturists. Many said they were keen to use more AgTech, but some had reservations because of previous experiences. They told us stories of investment in AgTech that was not appropriate for their situation, or that required multiple data inputs because their various technologies did not talk to each other, or AgTech that just did not do what it said on the tin.

“We wanted to build a platform that Australian producers could go to get independent, reliable information about what AgTech is out there, what’s right for their business and what works. It is not just a list of products, there is also plenty of information that will help producers educate themselves about AgTech.

“On the other side of the coin, we hope the platform will generate valuable information about what producers want from AgTech. Then we can feed that back to AgTech companies so they can make better products.”

President of National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) Fiona Simson called it “the missing piece of the puzzle that will see AgTech take off in Australia”.

“NFF is one of the platform’s supporters, alongside Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), IAG, AgriFutures and KPMG. So, we are backed by some big organisations in Australian agriculture”, says Megan.

Ultimately, AgTech Finder may just help Australian horticulturists, including nurseries, to understand technology better, to get access to products and services and to get the best possible return on their investment.