Rid­ing a wave of change

Gra­zier calls for in­dus­try to sup­port ag tech lead­ers and en­cour­age tech adop­tion

Central Queensland News - - RURALWEEKLY - AN­DREA DAVY An­drea.davy@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

CHANGE is hard. Change is un­com­fort­able. Change is also nec­es­sary for sur­vival in ev­ery­day life. Agri­cul­ture is no ex­cep­tion.

Those were the first few lines of Richmond gra­zier and ag-tech en­tre­pre­neur Wil­liam Har­ring­ton’s Nuffield re­port.

In 2016 the fa­ther-of-two trav­elled across Europe, Asia and the US on a mis­sion to learn about the use of re­mote mon­i­tor­ing tech­nolo­gies in agri­cul­ture and how adop­tion could be in­creased by beef pro­duc­ers.

De­spite a wealth of ev­i­dence that im­ple­ment­ing mod­ern tech­nolo­gies can in­crease busi­ness pro­duc­tiv­ity and ef­fi­ciency on cat­tle sta­tions, the up­take by some pro­duc­ers re­mains slow.

His trip abroad high­lighted the lat­est ag tech de­vel­op­ments and Mr Har­ring­ton re­turned home with a deeper un­der­stand­ing of change.

He is now urg­ing the in­dus­try and gov­ern­ments to think harder about the con­cept of change and the meth­ods they use to en­cour­age pro­duc­ers to adopt new tech­nol­ogy.

“Change is of­ten un­com­fort­able and dif­fi­cult and re­sis­tance to change is a part of hu­man na­ture,” Mr Har­ring­ton said.

“Ex­ter­nal fac­tors like fi­nan­cial pres­sures, global mar­kets and drought are plac­ing a bur­den on pro­duc­ers and this is go­ing to cre­ate unprecedented change in the in­dus­try, whether we like it or not.”

While Mr Har­ring­ton shrugged off the no­tion Aus­tralian beef pro­duc­ers were par­tic­u­larly “bad” at adapt­ing to new tech­nol­ogy, he agreed there were some pro­duc­ers in need of an at­ti­tude shift.

“I wouldn’t want to gen­er­alise the beef in­dus­try,” he said.

“There are some in­cred­i­ble ex­am­ples, like Sun­down Pas­toral Com­pany in NSW that has tech­nol­ogy in­cor­po­rated into ev­ery part of their op­er­a­tion.

“But then you get peo­ple my age who don’t own a mo­bile phone and they don’t use a com­puter.

“Aus­tralia has one of the more in­no­va­tive beef in­dus­tries in the world and the fu­ture of our in­dus­try is bright but we must in­crease the rate of adop­tion of tech­nol­ogy in or­der to re­alise our full po­ten­tial.”

Mr Har­ring­ton has walked the talk in adopt­ing new tech­nol­ogy.

He was pushed into diver­si­fy­ing the fam­ily busi­ness as his home sta­tion, Olga Downs, in north­west Queensland, wasn’t big enough to sus­tain two fam­i­lies. His par­ents, Carmel and Peter, as well as his wife, Hol­lie, and sons Jack, 4, and James, 1, all live on the prop­erty, which has been in fam­ily hands for many years.

Af­ter study­ing com­puter engi­neer­ing at univer­sity, Har­ring­ton Sys­tems Elec­tron­ics was launched in 2005.

In re­cent times the fam­ily launched Wi-Sky, a busi­ness pro­vid­ing high-speed in­ter­net to re­mote ar­eas.

Wi-Sky made head­lines af­ter its launch, as news of a gra­zier tak­ing the bush’s poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tem into his own hands and build­ing a bet­ter solution caused a stir.

Dur­ing the de­vel­op­ment and launch of Wi-Sky, Mr Har­ring­ton no­ticed con­flict­ing views on adopt­ing change first hand.

“There were some peo­ple who just weren’t in­ter­ested in it,” he said.

“They be­lieve that ba­sic, slow satel­lite in­ter­net was enough for a beef op­er­a­tion.

“But then there were peo­ple clam­ber­ing to get hooked up. It’s in­ter­est­ing as the in­ter­net is fairly ma­ture tech­nol­ogy, the ben­e­fits are un­der­stood.”

Dur­ing his Nuffield re­search, Mr Har­ring­ton stud­ied the Adop­tion Curve, a graph that high­lights which groups em­brace change first and why.

He has since noted the adop­tion bell curve per­fectly mir­rored Wi-Sky’s up­take.

Mr Har­ring­ton’s re­port out­lines there are many bar­ri­ers to change in agri­cul­ture, in­clud­ing tra­di­tion, time and fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment, un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions and scep­ti­cism of tech­nolo­gies.

In or­der to work through the change needed to mod­ernise the beef in­dus­try, ap­proaches that sup­port and pro­mote early adopters, em­pha­sise the value of ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing and pri­ori­tise an im­prove­ment in the com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­fra­struc­ture in north­ern Aus­tralia are a crit­i­cal start­ing point.

“Gov­ern­ment-man­dated change can be un­pop­u­lar but some­times it’s the only way for­ward,” he said.

“I think it should only be used as a last re­sort.”

Mr Har­ring­ton made men­tion of the Na­tional Live­stock Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Scheme, which was in­tro­duced in 1999 to im­prove trace­abil­ity within the beef in­dus­try, was met with re­sis­tance from pro­duc­ers.

“The beef in­dus­try went into the process kick­ing and scream­ing,” he said.

“It’s im­por­tant that in­dus­try un­der­stands that some­times a gov­ern­ment man­date can be a use­ful way to pro­mote change and work­ing with gov­ern­ment can be ef­fec­tive.”


But then

get peo­ple my age who don’t own a mo­bile phone and they don’t use a com­puter.

— Wil­liam Har­ring­ton


LEARN­ING ABROAD: Hol­lie, Jack (then two, now four) and Wil­liam Har­ring­ton dur­ing Wil­liam’s Nuffield Schol­ar­ship study tour in Canada.

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