Beefy profit potential in new digital tech
Connectivity, access to data block cattle industry from multi-million dollar gains
A LANDMARK agricultural research project spanning all major industries identified a potential 25 per cent profit boost in untapped digital technologies, averaged across the entire sector, with some particular juicy opportunities in beef production.
The Precision to Decision project, known as P2D, found that switching from analogue to digital production to enhance decision making processes could boost the ag sector’s production value by a cumulative $20.3 billion.
All 15 Rural Development Corporations (RDCs) contributed to P2D, which was pulled together by the Australian Farm Institute think tank.
The project drew on a nationwide survey of primary producers as well as a series of public forums, and handed down its final report late last year.
The P2D report, released late last year, breaks down industry-by-industry where the opportunities and challenges lay and noted beef has “lagged behind other industries”, particularly intensive animal production and broadacre cropping.
It said the poor telecommunications connectivity was the major barrier to widespread uptake of new technology in the beef industry; other significant hurdles include producers’ risk aversion, upfront capital costs and lack of products and services suited to Australian needs.
Connectivity falls short of beef producers’ needs in feed, landscape and water management.
There’s significant value buried in multiple industry and government data sets which measure weather, soil moisture, stock location and so on, particularly around feed budgeting and stock rotation. But these data sets are not compatible, making it hard to link their information to derive valuable decision making information.
Similarly breeding decisions are constrained by lack of common sata sets. P2D said incompatible data sets on carcase performance, genetics and animal health records are blocking the benefits flowing from objective carcase measurement technologies. Legal issues are also a significant concern here, with concerns over data sharing and ownership.
Once again, connectivity is constraining uptake of existing animal health and disease monitoring technologies, which rely on digital communications. However, major improvements to data analytics, particularly in predictive diagnostics, to tap the full value on offer.
Once again, poor connectivity is holding back adoption of labour-saving remote monitoring of production data and physical infrastructure such as watering points, gates, soil moisture and so on.
Cotton RDC consultant Rohan Rainbow, who lead the P2D project, said Australia suffers a significant competitive disadvantage compared to the US in its “foundational data sets”.
“Over there producers can draw granular information from public data sets, with fine detail of soils, water, climate and weather, region by region,” Mr Rainbow said.
“If we improve those resources that would make a more compelling case for companies to invest in technology that serves producers’ needs.
“At the moment, there is a lot of activity heading in different directions and it is very difficult for farmers to make sense of it and choose a path for their businesses.”
Australian Farm Institute general manager of research Richard Heath said unlike the US, the Australian market is too small to attract sufficient private investment to develop significant improvements to our large-scale natural resource data sets.
“We lack maturity in that area, but it has been Australia’s market factors which have driven that. The response to that problem which P2D identifies calls on the whole sector to tackle the problem.”
Mr Heath said ag should lobby with a united voice for public investment in foundational datasets.
“Easily accessible, valuable information would change Australian agriculture’s understanding of the value of data sharing and attitudes to data ownership,” he said.
“If we can get this right, and continue to work together to get the conditions right for digital agriculture, Australia can lead the world in terms of a whole-of-sector response to these challenges.”
P2D was funded by the federal Agriculture Department’s Rural R&D for Profit program.
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