National Farmers' Federation policy officers Maximiliane Hanft and Kimberly Pearsall joined a group of young ag enthusiasts in Wagga Wagga last week to discuss what farming’s future might look like.
The way we farm is rapidly changing.
Farmers of the future will be programming tractors instead of driving them. Will this switch to agri-tech change the social fabric of our rural communities and will a smaller farm workforce increase social isolation?
These were some of the questions fleshed out at the first Regional Innovation Conversation event in Wagga Wagga on 7 February.
Hosted by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) the group of 15 participants ranged from farmers to solicitors to industry consultants and policy developers.
Looking into farming’s crystal ball, the group determined new technologies, farmer health and social engagement to be critical.
Often discussions on innovation in agriculture focus on the next big thing such as disruptive technologies. Yet the discussion in Wagga was different. The core of the conversation was to bring everyday agriculture and farmers back into the equation and identify how new technologies can be adopted on the average family farm. The group concluded that new technologies must target the needs of farmers.
Put simply farmers will want to understand why a technology will be of value to them before they will consider adopting it.
The group agreed that the key to this would be tapping into trusted networks of farmers. In short, farmers look, quite literally, over the fence to find out how to farm better – they are influenced by their farming neighbours.
Farmers’ trusted networks will, however, change in coming years with farmers increasingly relying on data analysis professionals, business coaches and technology specialists for advice. The group also determined it was crucial to attract a strong workforce that embraces innovation in farming and to market agriculture as an exciting workplace, full of new job opportunities.
These new job opportunities in farming will lead to a major change in the social fabric of rural communities. Replacing physical labour on farm with new technologies will lead to the creation of tech hubs in some rural towns and to increased physical isolation for farmers in their day-to-day work.
The group discussed the importance of farmers taking responsibility for their physical and mental health, and to actively pursue social activities and sport in rural communities.
Optimal business practices will be key as farms move into more connected, technology-driven farming. Traditionally, farms are both the family home and a business. Having a development plan with clear goals that focuses on increasing profit and reducing risk will be essential. Access to alternative capital to facilitate adoption of innovation on-farm will be a major enabler.
Key to all of the above mentioned game changers in agriculture are collaboration, network building and knowledge sharing. RIRDC and Australian Farmers are ideally positioned to bring industry leaders together to influence the conversation around agricultural innovation and to lead agriculture into a productive and competitive future that connects farmers instead of isolating them.
Join in the discussion at one of the below upcoming Regional Innovation Conversations:
* Maximiliane Hanft and Kimberly Pearsall are policy officers with the National Farmers' Federation. Maxie specialises in trade and rural affairs with a keen interest in matters of biosecurity. Kimberly specialises in workplace relations and farmer health and safety.