Data-heavy fu­ture ahead for farm­ers

Countryman - - MACHINERY AND TECHNOLOGY - Ann Rawl­ings

Keep­ing apace with de­vel­op­ments in tech­nol­ogy goes far be­yond the aims of max­imis­ing yield, op­ti­mis­ing in­puts and im­prov­ing labour ef­fi­cien­cies, ac­cord­ing to agri­cul­tural an­a­lyst Wes­ley Le­froy.

Mr Le­froy, who works within Rabobank’s RaboRe­search Food and Agribusi­ness team, said new tech­nolo­gies would also al­low pro­duc­ers to adapt to chang­ing mar­kets and con­sumer trends.

“This tech­nol­ogy is go­ing to cre­ate trans­parency, im­prove prove­nance or the proof of ori­gin and al­le­vi­ate coun­ter­party risks, or bring more trust to trans­ac­tions, and in­crease sup­ply chain ef­fi­cien­cies,” he said. “Blockchain and data col­lec­tion tech­nolo­gies like sen­sors are go­ing to en­hance the story around what we pro­duce.”

Mr Le­froy said con­sumer be­hav­iour had started to change, while de­vel­op­ments in both emerg­ing — mainly the Asia Pa­cific re­gion — and ad­vanced mar­kets would put in­creased pres­sure on Aus­tralian pro­duc­ers.

“Our growth is pri­mar­ily driven by emerg­ing mar­kets, and pri­or­i­ties in these mar­kets can dif­fer from ours,” Mr Le­froy said.

“At home, there is ris­ing in­ter­est in the en­vi­ron­ment, wel­fare, fair­ness and prove­nance of food, en­cour­aged by the me­dia and ac­cel­er­ated by so­cial me­dia.

“Our mar­ket po­si­tions are be­ing chal­lenged by low-cost pro­duc­ers and there is in­creased fo­cus on gen­er­at­ing value on more than price and quan­tity.”

Mr Le­froy said blockchain tech­nolo­gies could en­hance trace­abil­ity and trans­parency of prod­ucts, re­duce risk within the sup­ply chain and lead to great ef­fi­cien­cies in op­er­a­tion.

“If we have a look at tra­di­tional agri­cul­tural tech­nolo­gies, they are ei­ther fo­cused on the farm, the sup­ply chain or at the pro­ces­sor level, or they are fo­cused on con­sumers and how con­sumers in­ter­act with their food,” he said.

“A blockchain is dif­fer­ent. It fo­cuses on in­ter­ac­tions be­tween each of these dif­fer­ent en­ti­ties through­out the sup­ply chain. It is a dig­i­tal plat­form that stores and ver­i­fies trans­ac­tions be­tween users.”

The tech­nol­ogy also al­lowed for a two-way flow of in­for­ma­tion, giv­ing farm­ers a greater un­der­stand­ing of op­por­tu­ni­ties within the mar­ket and the most op­ti­mal time to send pro­duce to mar­ket.

But while Mr Le­froy said such a plat­form for trade would in­crease trans­parency, with each con­trib­u­tor be­ing able to view and ver­ify trans­ac­tions, an el­e­ment of hu­man trust still ex­isted.

“Blockchain will en­sure the in­for­ma­tion is trans­ferred but it does not en­sure that the in­for­ma­tion put in is cor­rect, and this is where the value of au­toma­tion sen­sor tech­nol­ogy re­ally comes in,” he said.

Mr Le­froy said data from an in­ter­con­nected group of sen­sors mea­sur­ing the chem­i­cals and fertilisers used within a grain en­ter­prise, or Aus­tralian Sheep Breed­ing Val­ues in a live­stock op­er­a­tion, could be en­tered into a blockchain to im­prove trust.

“A re­duc­tion in the op­por­tu­nity at the hu­man level to make mis­takes or in­ter­vene in the sup­ply chain will en­hance the pro­duc­tion story and en­hance trust in the blockchain story,” he said. “Au­to­mated data col­lec­tion will strengthen the story.”

How­ever, Mr Le­froy said what con­sumers val­ued in terms of the in­for­ma­tion shared was still un­clear, and their de­mands would most likely evolve along­side move­ments within the mar­kets for Aus­tralian pro­duce.

“My mes­sage to farm­ers is that any data they can cre­ate that en­hances their story is go­ing to be valu­able down the track,” he said.

“Farm­ers who have the abil­ity to be flex­i­ble in terms of what they are pro­duc­ing and when they are pro­duc­ing and de­liv­er­ing to mar­ket will be the ones who will be best off mov­ing for­ward, when this tech­nol­ogy de­vel­ops.”

Mr Le­froy said farm­ers not only needed to share their mes­sage, they should choose qual­ity and pre­pare for a “data-heavy fu­ture”.

“It presents both dis­rup­tion and op­por­tu­nity for those who love to be chal­lenged and con­tinue to im­prove their busi­nesses,” he said.

Agri­cul­tural an­a­lyst Wes­ley Le­froy, from Rabobank’s RaboRe­search Food and Agribusi­ness team.

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