For many Australians, farmers are responsible for putting food on the table. The potential for technology to revolutionise how they do that presents an unprecedented opportunity to change the lives not just of these custodians, but of families and communities.
So, what happens when inadequate mobile coverage gets in the way?
David Greig knows a thing or two about multi-tasking. Running a mixed farm operation of sheep and crops in what he calls “the dead-centre of New South Wales” (referred to on maps as Tottenham, NSW), Grieg juggles raising a family while navigating a constantly shifting agricultural landscape. It’s here that Greig is let down by limited mobile coverage. “We’ve got telephone coverage 50% of the time, text messaging 75% of the time, and as far as data uploads go… we just don’t even bother.” Greig and his family share four mobile phones between them with a combined 10GB of data. He says this meagre amount of data is enough – though they can’t always use it because they don’t have reliable coverage.
Running a farm is hard work, made even harder when mobile coverage is an inconsistent utility across the community. “I use my phone multiple times daily, whether that’s checking the weather, or checking market reports. We struggle to make a phone call, let alone complete something that requires any amount of data. People are just assuming we have good coverage, that we can complete online forms in the paddock, where actually, we can’t.” He points to a recent example, where they missed out on a sale of canola worth “tens of thousands of dollars” as the market price had both risen and fallen in the time they were in a paddock without service.
"It can make a huge difference to how we do business. We’re limited in the resources that we can access, as opposed to someone who’s got better mobile coverage. There’s an enormous amount of knowledge on YouTube, but you couldn’t stream a 30 second or 1 minute video – say, an instructional video on a piece of machinery."
The potential for mobile coverage in the agricultural sector presents a staggering opportunity – enough to revolutionise how we produce food for an ever-evolving Australia. Whether it’s smart, IoT-based farming, or 24/7 driverless transport, farmers have in their pockets the capability to create new opportunities where they simply didn’t exist. For example, Greig points out the potential for drones to replace the spraying machinery for pesticides and irrigation, as well as remote cameras that could monitor water points for sheep and provide real-time alerts instead of having to travel kilometres every day to inspect them.
We do understand that we’re reasonably remote, but we do business with people in cities who think that [their level of coverage] is normal.David Greig who runs a mised-farm operation of sheep and crops in Tottenham, NSW
Greig also unearths serious concerns about how his family would communicate in case of an emergency. “We can’t just call an ambulance – it’s not that simple. Emergency services always say to call an ambulance first, but with no mobile service, we’re nearly better off [if someone was to break a leg] to put them in the car and take them to town yourself.”
At present, Greig and his family are forced to use Telstra to get their current level of service. Through domestic mobile roaming, mobile towers would be open to all consumers in regional Australia, regardless of which mobile provider they are with. Greig points to a typical example here – a father and son business team operating on two farms nearby: one serviced by Telstra and the other by Optus. They had to purchase two sets of phones as each mobile tower only serves the customers of one provider.
“Domestic roaming would open up a lot of options to us. If it’s able to provide us with more towers and give us better signal in more places on our farm, that would be fantastic.”
If you support domestic roaming, contact your local MP and let them know.