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Report uncovers missing links in on-farm telecommunications

A new report into on-farm telecommunications to secure a digital agriculture future has found that producers are not constrained by technology, but low levels of awareness and service provider options.

The University of New England report calls for marketplace policies to create fair access for Australian producers and an education campaign to increase use of digital agriculture technologies.

Senior researcher David Lamb said his 12-month study, working as part of the Accelerating Precision Agriculture to Decision Agriculture Project (P2D), canvased the views and behaviors of more than 1000 producers, as well as technology providers.

“We found that the options are out there but in some cases, they’re almost hidden,” said Professor Lamb.

“The industry needs a much greater push on education so that producers have the information and the confidence to make the most of technology to enable digital agriculture and, in particular, we need market solutions to mobile technology access."

Some farmers are already exploring backhaul infrastructure and second tier providers
David Lamb, University of New England

As part of his report’s 13 recommendations, Professor Lamb is pushing for an industry- wide ‘fair use’ policy that keeps mobile access costs down during periods of critical and “data-hungry” farm operations like harvesting and mustering. He’s also calling for greater emphasis on data speeds as part of codes that govern service provision.

“We also need an agricultural-oriented, national telecommunications network map for future planning. This data is important for the marketplace, network operators and to second tier providers to step in and deliver solutions for producers,” said Professor Lamb.

“Some farmers are already exploring backhaul infrastructure and second tier providers who, in essence, act as a booster to provide local area options,” said Professor Lamb.

“But you can't make use of what you don't know about which is why we need field demonstration sites, best practice case studies and information packs to make it easy for producers to cut through the jargon and find technology solutions that will work on their property.”

Professor Lamb said a key priority for farmers is to improve mobile access to information so that they can make decisions on location and spend less time travelling back to the farm office.

“They also want to monitor things across the property remotely, with access to that data wherever they are and whenever they want to bring peace of mind,” he said.

“As a result, mobile phone connectivity will dominate the future for agriculture enterprises, supported by developments like multi-access and mobile point solutions offered through the NBN roll out.”

Report recommendations look to expand farm connectivity options including multiple access points for NBN Sky Muster or fixed wireless, based on property size and even mobile Sky Muster access. There are opportunities to improve network wireless backhaul infrastructure through initiatives like sharing tower, dish and aerial infrastructure.

“We also need to make sure that someone is in the producer’s corner and pushing the agriculture view as things develop into the future,” said Professor Lamb.

“That’s why we have recommended an industry-wide and independent group to drive the development of long term strategies and make sure that Australia stays ahead of the game.”

To view the full report and findings, including a webinar presentation of the results, visit http://www.farminstitute.org.au/P2Dproject.

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