Having spent more than 23 years in the Agriculture industry Graham Page, with an extensive background in agronomy, now heads up Thomas Elder Consulting (TEC).
Graham has spent a significant portion of time working to solve real challenges faced by farmers and to improve their farm business management strategies and application of those on farm. At the 2019 evokeAG event Graham ran a booked-out masterclass titled ‘AgTech and the Future’. At the session introduction, the MC quoted Graham as saying, “The farming landscape is rapidly changing, and we need to rapidly change with it”. The following is a brief summary of Graham’s masterclass at the event.
Three years ago, the challenge was set to work out how we are going to adapt, how we are going manage AgTech and continue to innovate to ensure that industry remains vital to the growth and sustainability of Agriculture. With the focus including practice change, building wider partnerships and the adoption of R&D, primary producers are vital to the process. However, the current research to commercialisation chain is not involving farmers as heavily as it should. One of the best examples in the last 23 years of practice change is No-Till farming, the impact on the grain industry that this change has brought has been significant to the point there are likely very limited farming operations remaining that are not utilising No-Till Farming. From the researchers, machinery dealerships, agribusinesses, public consultants and farmers, everyone was involved to create a system that works across the broad spectrum. The positive impacts were felt environmentally, socially and economically, in Western Australia alone it is estimated that 90% of producers have adopted a No-Till minimal till system.
With the number of AgTech suppliers growing exponentially, how do we understand their value proposition? Too often suppliers are coming to the market with products and services that have not been tested on farm in the real world. Any new product, system or service must be developed to have differentiation to what is already on the market, often new systems are identical to what is already on the market. Australia as a market for AgTech is too small. Startups must begin to think globally and engage farmers in the process. Key considerations when bringing something to the market must be to question, have you provided development plans and field testing? What is your pathway to market? How will you provide technical training, support and back up maintenance? What is your commercial model and who is going to pay? These questions highlight AgTech startups greatest challenges and without answers to these questions, any commercialisation may be difficult.
If there is one take home message around the true benefits that can be brought to the producer through AgTech, the benefits are simple; time, marketable yield, quality of produce, return on investment. Producers are often time poor and are looking for support around how they manage their day to day operations. Consolidation adds further complexity to farming operations as further layers of complexity are added. Like the No-Till Farming system any practice change and/or AgTech development that can benefit the entire agriculture chain from researchers to producers to the consumer should be nurtured. When R&D has the potential to create positive impacts environmentally, socially and economically, farmers need to be a key driver and decision maker to ensure that any innovation can be successfully implemented.