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Toowoomba forum told agtech must save time and money

Neil Lyon, Grain Central, June 4, 2021

AuctionsPlus chief executive officer, Angus Street, left, with DataFarming managing director, Tim Neale; and Goanna Ag chief operating officer, Tom Dowling.

DEVELOPING agtech products that save farmers time and money, and securing capital and effective marketing strategies to bring them to market, are the keys to increasing adoption in agriculture.

That was the message a range of speakers presented to this week’s 400M Agrifood Innovation Forum in Toowoomba.

While adoption rates for some high-tech innovations such as auto steer in tractors is high – around 80 percent in the broadacre farming sector – on-farm adoption has been stubbornly slow for a myriad of other ag tech and precision farming products.

At the 400M forum, a panel of ag tech entrepreneurs fielded a range of questions on the challenges of successfully commercialising ag tech products and services for farmers.

The ‘Ag Tech Stories of Success’ panel included DataFarming managing director, Tim Neale; AuctionsPlus chief executive officer, Angus Street; Goanna Ag chief operating officer, Tom Dowling, and; Infarm managing director, Jerome Leray.

DataFarming is a software platform servicing over 22,000 farms in 50 countries and AuctionsPlus is an online livestock and machinery sales platform. Goanna Ag provides data-driven solutions for farm resource management and improved water-use efficiency. Infarm is an agricultural AI company delivering technology to farmers.

On adoption and successful commercialisation

Tim Neale said technology companies in the past had let agriculture down because, in such a small industry where money was tight, the technology had often not been up to spec.

“We get frustrated that some guy in a backyard develops a sensor and tries to sell it to the market.

“It breaks in two days, everyone gets frustrated, and then when someone else comes along and says I have a really good sensor the farmer says ‘I’ve tried five of those,’” he said.

“The way to solve that is to have a deep understanding of the industry in the first place, and then it needs investment.

“That’s what drives it because we have to get it right to deliver to the marketplace, otherwise people will get annoyed and dis-adopt.”

Mr Neale said usability was the key a successful product that farmers would want to adopt, along with making it simple and intuitive.

“Everyone has a smart phone.

“There has not been one manual written for a smart phone that anyone reads,” he said.

“So, everything is intuitive in a consumer grade product.

“What we need to do is bring the same thinking back into agriculture and not overcomplicate it.”

Mr Street said for agtech products to be successful they needed to make, or save, money for the farmer, and save them time.

“Money and time are the two greatest assets for the agricultural community.

“If it doesn’t tick those, it goes on the junk pile,” he said.

Mr Dowling said the way to increase the adoption of agtech was to build a product from the field up, not from the engineer down.

“A lot of our product development comes from the field, comes from our client feedback on what they want from a product.

“It’s that part of your relationship with your client that does your products a lot of value,” he said.

“When bringing new products to market, I’ve always tried to be heavily involved in research and the validation that comes with it.

“Our researchers are very highly respected in Australian ag,” Mr Dowling said.

“That gave me a shorter path to cracking the market and selling the product.”

Mr Leray said a lot of the time it was the farmers who had the innovative idea, “all they want you to do is give it to them in the form that they can buy”.

“Australia is well regarded from an innovation point of view, but we are no good at commercialising things and getting it to the next step.

“Proving that the tech works is something we have excelled at as a nation, but then it goes overseas, gets commercialised and sold back to the very farmers and innovators who created it,” he said.

“So, listen to the farmer, build a small project, partner with the big guys to help you scale up, then you can start to hit the ground running.”

Who owns the data, the producer or the system supplier?

Mr Street said AuctionsPlus considered that the person who collected the data was the person who owned the data.

“From our perspective, the producer owns the data and they can do what they choose to do with it,” he said.

“It is an interesting discussion, because businesses now are trying to grab data and have big pools of data.

“Data becomes their asset,” he said.

“But as a business, our point of view is that you actually shouldn’t get a secondary, kick-on benefit from the data.

“What you should be aiming to do is add enough value to the data decision making, and that is when you can charge for it,” Mr Street said.

“Businesses need to become comfortable that they are creating value with products and services that they can charge up front.

“The data is owned by the farmer, and if we are providing the data solution the solution should be good enough and add enough value to the farmer that the charge is on to the farmer,” he said.

“As a sector, that should be the way we look at it.”

Mr Leray said farmers were often giving up sovereignty over their data without realising that it could be quite valuable to them.

He said farmers could agree to have their data ‘anonymised’ and on-sold by the system supplier, and share in the revenue for providing that data.

“That is how we view it: you guys own the data and if you have given us permission to go and anonymise it then you actually get a clip of the ticket for being part of that entire process.

“So, it’s helping the industry as well as helping yourself in the sense it has incentivised you to provide that data and go to the digital farming system.”

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