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24 billion reasons to find solutions to data drought
Unlocking the full potential of ‘digital agriculture’ could increase the value of agricultural production by $20.3 billion, helping to achieve the industry’s goal of $100 billion in farm gate output by 2030, according to a new report.
The finding has emerged from the Precision to Decision (P2D) Project, a collaboration between 15 Rural Research and Development Corporations, universities, industry and agribusiness looking at the potential for digital technology across the farm sector.
The Accelerating Precision Agriculture to Decision Agriculture (P2D) Project team has found that transition from analogue business and production models to digital is creating both opportunities and challenges for farmers.
“While the size and type of potential benefits vary between industries, if we work together as one agricultural sector, profit gains will be delivered more quickly and evenly in every market,” said project researcher Richard Heath, from the Australian Farm Institute.
“Our economic analysis, supported by international value proposition case studies and domestic best-practice benchmarking, gives us a window into the right formula for delivering maximum returns, specific to each industry.
“But to capture the maximum potential, and secure our position as a world leader in agricultural production, we are going to need to act quickly and cooperatively to coordinate a national approach.”
The P2D project, led by the Cotton Research and Development Corporation (RDC) and supported by all 15 RDCs, has delivered 13 key recommendations designed to catapult Australian agriculture into the digital age.
National Farmers' Federation (NFF) President Fiona Simson said the report confirmed what farmers had suspected for years.
“Farmers have long recognised digital farming technologies have real potential to improve productivity and on-farm efficiency."
Ms Simson said farm production was, on average, on an upward trajectory.
"In 2016-2017 production tallied a record of $60 billion. Our goal is to reach $100 billion by 2030."
The NFF President said the opportunities for new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and the application of big data are a long way from being realised.
"The largest barrier to realising the benefits of these technologies has been poor internet connectivity.
“Farmers have been frustrated for some time by a lack of connectivity which has hampered technology uptake."
The largest barrier to realising the benefits of these technologies has been poor internet connectivity.
Fiona Simson, President, NFF
The report identified additional barriers to uptake, including: a lack of confidence in returns from investment in digital agriculture; poor knowledge and support to assess options; and trust and legal issues with data ownership.
"For many, investment in infrastructure in rural, regional and remote areas, where a huge amount of our agricultural production takes place, has been perceived as lacking a return on investment," Ms Simson said.
“However, this report demonstrates that there is a return on investment from connectivity infrastructure."
Specifically, the findings detail that agriculture alone can expect a 30% increase in value and and deliver an overall increase of $24.6 billion to the national gross domestic product (a 1.5% increase on 2014-15 levels).
“When you consider the already significant contribution the sector makes to the Australian economy, this finding is incredible.
“It gives the Government 24 billion reasons to focus on finding solutions to the data drought, so the farm sector can reach its potential.”
Ms Simson congratulated the P2D team on an important body of work.
"The NFF will use these findings to demonstrate to Governments and telecommunications companies that the prospect of a return is real, and that there is an urgent need for infrastructure to end the data drought.
"Not just for the agricultural sector, but the Australian economy as a whole."
Mr Heath said the P2D recommendations call for a “big picture fix”, including a new Digital Agriculture Taskforce for Australia and collaborative efforts to secure data speeds and volumes and open access to game-changing datasets.
The P2D project is jointly funded by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources Rural R&D For Profit Program and all 15 RDCs. It involves research support from three universities, CSIRO Data 61, the Australian Farm Institute and the Data to Decisions CRC.
The Rural, Regional and Remote Communications Coalition (RRRCC) has been formed to highlight the collective concerns of families, businesses and communities about inequitable access to telecommunications services in the bush. More information can be found here Campaign to end the Data Drought.