Farmers fail to capitalise on ag tech
AGRICULTURAL TECHNOLOGY is rapidly developing but the current uptake of ‘sensor technology’ among Australian farmers is limited, according to a report by agribusiness banking specialist Rabobank. Drawing on insights from 1000 farmers across Australia, the recently-released report, Does sensor adoption make cents?, says the use of sensor technology remains modest. Questioning farmers across a wide range of regions, production sectors and operation sizes (during its regular quarterly survey of rural sentiment), Rabobank found less than a quarter (23 per cent) were using sensor technology — such as drones, moisture probes and irrigation monitors, as well as yield mapping and electronic identification (EID). Report author, Rabobank agricultural analyst Wesley Lefroy, said there are “clearly barriers to adoption that are holding back the farm sector from receiving the value promised by digital agriculture”. “For many farmers, the value proposition (or return on investment) for many sensor technologies simply isn’t articulated clearly enough for farmers to determine they can generate a profit from it,” he said. Mr Lefroy said the uptake appeared to be higher amongst larger farm businesses, with the survey finding large farms (with incomes above one million) to have the highest uptake of sen- sors at 57 per cent — compared with a 10 per cent uptake in farming businesses with incomes below $300 000. The highest rate of sensor adoption is in the cotton industry (78 per cent) and the grains sector (48 per cent), while adoption rates were limited in dairy (20 per cent), beef (10 per cent) and sheep (12 per cent) — with these sectors generally having a higher proportion of smallscale producers. Mr Lefroy said the significant cost, time and knowledge needed to extract value from some livestock orientated technology was limiting uptake. The survey found less than 70 per cent of those using the technology were applying the sensor-generated data to support farm decisionmaking, while less than 40 per cent were converting the data into profit. In order to “close the gap” so farmers fully understand how to use the data and generate profit from it, there are two main issues that need addressing, he said. “At the farmgate, there needs to be an increased emphasis on having adequate technological resources, and this goes beyond software and hardware management, as farmers also need to have the skills to analyse the data. “However, for farmers to make this investment, in both time and money, the value proposition of using this technology needs to improve,” he said. “Tech companies have a big role to play in this, to ensure farmers can easily use the data to assist with decision-making, so ‘after-sales service’ is critical.” Mr Lefroy said in the age where farmers are generating more and more data, the ownership of data and privacy issues were another concern, while many agricultural producers also lacked the technological infrastructure and connectivity required to fully utilise farm management technology offered by vendors.
Only 20 per cent of the dairy industry are utilising sensor technology, which includes drones, moisture probes and irrigation monitors.