New policy settings and infrastructure upgrades are required for Australia’s agriculture technology sector to mature, according to the National Farmers Federation, which has asked the federal government to adopt a “leadership role” in digital agriculture.

Currently, adoption of new agriculture technologies is challenged, the group says, by poor national networks, cultural barriers between farmers and technology developers, and a lack of policy settings to encourage research and investment.

In its submission to the current Senate inquiry into financial technology and regulatory technology, NFF general manager, trade and economics, Prudence Gordon, calls for the establishment of a high-level advisory group for the development of digital agriculture.

The advisory group would “oversee development of a digital strategy for agriculture, including a data strategy and data sharing policy”.

The submission cites research claiming “unrestrained implementation of digital agriculture” could boost gross Australia’s agricultural production by $20.3 billion, an increase of more than a third on current levels. The NFF has a goal of growing Australia’s agriculture sector into a $100 billion industry by 2030. 

Digital Agriculture

Digital agriculture refers to the use of digital technology to improve agricultural processes. Examples include using technology and data for monitoring and management of livestock, crops and soil. But more nascent technology could also improve outcomes, according to the NFF submission which uses the application of blockchain technology to the agriculture supply chain as an example.

“Blockchain or distributed ledger technology … has the potential to help address growing demands for supply chain transparency and traceability, and to help manage food safety, demonstrate product authenticity and improve the efficiency of commodity inventory and transaction management systems, particularly when combined with IoT technologies.”

But currently local adoption of digital agriculture is slow, according to the submission, and Australia’s broader agtech sector is “still relatively immature on a global scale”.

Lack of access to telecommunications and connectivity for regional Australia remains a key barrier, farmers often don’t perceive agtech solutions to be valuable; and the entrepreneurs pushing the solutions “do not understand the complexities of farming”.

Concerns over privacy and how farm data will be used also “undermines trust and can limit uptake”.

According to the NFF, to encourage a positive environment for agtech companies – or any “x-tech” – Australia also needs improved network infrastructure, more incentives for early stage investors, and more R&D incentives, in addition to the new government advisory group.

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