ACCC’s Mick Keogh was the keynote speaker at the Growing Digital National Forum in Canberra, pictured with project manager Jane Trindall, CRDC Innovation Broker.

Growing a digital future in agriculture: what will it take?

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September 19, 2019

Australia’s agricultural industries have the opportunity to harness the benefits of big data and digital technology, and it’s a case of working together at all levels, according to the Australian Farm Institute’s Executive Director Mick Keogh.

Mick was the keynote speaker at the Australian Agriculture: Growing a Digital Future National Forum held at Parliament House in Canberra earlier this week. The forum, led by CRDC with support from partners in the Growing a Digital Future project, bought together representatives from Rural Development Corporations, educators, researchers, government, the private sector and the farming community.

Research has shown that digital innovation could lift the GVP of the Australian agricultural sector by $20.3 billion. Four key areas have been identified as benefiting producers across the sector – managing inputs, automation and labour saving, market access and biosecurity and genetics.

The agricultural sector has set a course for Australian farms to produce $100 billion by 2030. In his presentation, Mick outlined opportunities and challenges for Australian agriculture’s digital transformation.

“In the past, Australian agriculture was able to increase output, despite low productivity growth, by expanding the amount of land and water resources utilised by the sector,” he said.

“That option is no longer available, and in fact the amount of land and water resources available to the sector has declined significantly in recent decades, and is predicted to shrink further.

“Consequently, a key focus of efforts to increase the annual value of agricultural output in Australia must be on improving agricultural productivity.”

Mick said the advantages that digital technology can bring are not limited to the farm, and some of the biggest gains in value are likely to be generated from the adoption of digital systems that extend seamlessly through the supply chain from farm to consumer.

“Some of the best avenues Australian agriculture has available to increase the value of output involve targeting higher value and premium markets,” he said.

Fortunately for producers, Australian supply chains are well placed to provide this information as part of the ‘product’, and digital technologies provide opportunities to supply product information at low cost.

“We now possess unimaginable levels of monitoring, and as such digital technology can supply product information at low cost, with better resource management, environmental outcomes and new career opportunities,” Mick said.



Digital agriculture also brings with it some new challenges such as connectivity; limited interoperability between systems; data portability; data rights; and creating better co-operation between public and private R&D sectors.

“A flourishing digital agriculture sector will require ongoing public-sector agricultural R&D, and better models of collaboration between the public and private sector R&D systems.

“And perhaps, most importantly, digital agricultural developments are likely to facilitate faster changes to the ‘normal’ way of doing things, meaning that all involved will need to respond much more rapidly than was the case in the past.”


New products launched

Research presented at the forum outlined the amount of potential through agtech and big data is currently equalled by a lack of digital maturity, skills and governance, which is a barrier to adoption and utilisation of digital agriculture to its full potential.

To overcome this, two practical tools were released to help Australian agri-businesses adopt digital technologies in a way that adds value to their farming business.

The Australian Agricultural Workforce Digital Capability Framework and self-assessment tool provides the analysis and framework for education providers to develop a curriculum to meet future demand for digital skills. 

Achieving a practical national framework will also guide ongoing investments and priorities as they relate to up-skilling the agricultural workforce to better adopt technology and lift the digital maturity.

Under the project, CSIRO developed the world-first digital maturity index and assessment tool specifically for agriculture.

“To ensure that the journey of digital transformation is purposeful and effective, it is important to first undertake an assessment of the industry to identify areas of digital strength and areas for development,” Jane said.

“The development and launch of the on-line digital maturity index and assessment tool is considered a useful first step for digital transformation.”

The tool can serve a diagnostic and, monitoring and evaluation function for digital transformation. It helps agribusinesses and individual agriculture sectors to evaluate their current levels of digital maturity, identify areas of strength and weakness, as well as assist them in setting goals, and in developing and evaluating targeted digital-improvement initiatives.

For more information, visit our Growing a Digital Future webpage.