A view from Australia

Insights from a whirlwind tour of Australian farm innovation

In February this year we were invited by Innovate UK to take part in the Global Business Innovation Programme to Australia. This involved 12 leading UK AgTech companies to foster international partnerships and explore commercial opportunities between markets. The packed schedule started with a visit to EvokeAG, the leading Asia-Pacific food and farming show held in Melbourne, Victoria. Followed by the startup hub of South Australia and Waite University, and a tour of New South Wales including Sydney, Armidale, Wagga Wagga (including TV appearance), and Orange.

We were welcomed with typical Australian hospitality and openness, giving us deep insight into the mentality, drivers, and needs of the modern Australian grower:

  • It’s all about the business: With decades under a subsidy-free system, the Australian grower has developed a tough, business-first attitude to farming. Decision are guided by the bottom line for the business – which is not seen in contradiction to sustainability or environmental responsibility, as these are seen hand in hand with successful business performance
  • A different environment: Farm sizes are 10-100x larger than the UK equivalent, driving scale-thinking and efficiency across the business. In counter however, wheat yields are typically 1-2 tonnes per hectare, pointing to an extensive system of farming with extreme care over cost of production. Meanwhile, a good year could see yields shoot to 6 tonnes per hectare with huge windfall for the grower. But such years are increasingly rare.
  • Water rules: In the drier parts of the country, especially to the West, water rules. Decisions to plant or not plant are guided by soil moisture and rain forecast for the season – a highly unreliable situation. Smart technology for soil moisture sensing is in huge demand, alongside sophisticated risk-based decision support tools
  • Asia pays: Australia is a regular net export grower, especially in good production years. And the primary export destination is Asia. This means that production quality and cost are all guided by Asian market demand, and puts export demand front and centre of the grower’s mind from planting to harvest
  • A government is stepping back from extension… Across the country we heard a familiar story: government resources towards direct extension work is falling, leaving a gap in knowledge and research which is only slowly filled by the private sector
  • …in favour of innovation: we toured plenty of shiny hubs for agricultural technology: from Adelaide’s LOT14 sitting alongside their new Machine Learning Institute and Space Agency, to the launch of the new InAg.Tech incubator in Armidale, New South Wales, or futuristic SMART farm nearby - and more innovation hubs beyond. The Australian government is putting huge support behind fostering innovation in this tough production landscape

Specifically for YAGRO, we found strong interest in our solutions across the country – particularly among large scale, commercial grain producers (just as we do in the UK). The interest was especially strong for our emerging Commercial Intelligence tools, giving farms direct visibility and control over their full business performance throughout the year: and importantly, linking detailed in-field activities with financials.

When it comes to farm business management, there clearly remains a high degree of commonality across the markets – and better still, perhaps plenty to learn from each other through changing times.

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