How big data could help save the (agricultural) world…

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Hovering UAV for sensing and interaction, one of several developed by the Australian Centre for Field Robotics.
Hovering UAV for sensing and interaction, one of several developed by the Australian Centre for Field Robotics.
The University of Sydney

We are all aware of the pressure for Australian agriculture to meet the global food task. We are reminded constantly that by 2050, the global population will reach more than nine billion. And we know this is a huge opportunity for Australia to increase its agricultural output significantly.

Australian agriculture productivity has stagnated, however. This is no breaking news; growth has been stalled since 1997.

Mick Keogh, Australian Farm Institute executive director and recently-appointed Agriculture Commissioner for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), is one of the leading minds commenting on this issue; you can see some of his comments in the Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation (RIRDC) report for 2015.

If Australia’s agricultural industry is to advance, both productivity and innovation must increase considerably across all ag sectors – and big data is a great tool for helping this process. The insights gained from big data have the capacity to accelerate growth substantially.

NSW Farmers' David Eyre notes the existence of a vast amount of data already, inside farmers’ tractors, headers and so on. Keogh contends that “the key is turning [this] flood of information into sensible, decision-supporting tools”.

John Deere's new Field Connect technology being tested in the field.
John Deere's new Field Connect technology being tested in the field.
John Deere

So the big question is: How do we turn this flood of information into valuable business insights that will increase productivity, boost profitability, spark innovation across Australia and, ultimately, help to save the world from mass hunger?

Eyre identifies industry collaboration as the way to optimise the digital economy’s potential across Australia, with cooperation across the supply chain “on things like data models [and] effective IT systems”. He contends that if stakeholders can “agree on rules and processes, greater productivity will be achieved for all”. In short, collaborative effort is required if we want to capitalise on big-data insights.

But is industry collaboration all that’s necessary to access big data’s valuable insights and increase productivity levels across agribusiness?

Clearly, when it comes to productivity levels, greater investment in the agriculture sector, advancements in technology and mitigating risks effectively are also contributing factors that must be mastered if Australia wants to carve out a position as a global supplier.

Big data was one of the key topics explored at the 2nd Agribusiness Outlook Australia conference in Sydney in May 2016, where several of Australia’s top agribusiness professionals, including Senator Ann Ruston, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources; Don Taylor, chairman of Graincorp; and Barry Irvin, executive chairman for Bega Cheese, discussed ways to increase levels of productivity and innovation across the sector to drive growth for Australian agribusiness, and how best to access and capitalise on big data’s valuable insights.

For more on the conference content and insights, visit the AOA 2016 site

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