Digital love child better than parents

Australian Farm Institute's (AFI) Richard Heath believes digital agriculture the next step of precision agriculture


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The Australian Farm Institute's general manager research, Richard Heath, said farmers would be able to use digital agriculture to make better on-farm decisions.

The Australian Farm Institute's general manager research, Richard Heath, said farmers would be able to use digital agriculture to make better on-farm decisions.

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Australian Farm Institute's (AFI) Richard Heath believes digital agriculture the next step of precision agriculture

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DIGITAL agriculture, the love child of precision agriculture and big data, is set to revolutionise how farmers make decisions.

According to an industry expert, what differentiates the child from the parents is a competitive environment and investors from outside agriculture.

Australian Farm Institute, general manager research, Richard Heath said while some companies had been carrying out farm data analysis for the last two decades, technology improvements were moving the sector to the next level. 

“The technology has got to the point where the speed and cost of computing is enabling high end analysis that involves huge amounts of data,” he said. 

Technology is making things possible that were not possible before - Richard Heath

“Technology is making things possible that were not possible before.”

“The next step is using machine learning for analysis.”

Mr Heath said machine learning will allow increasingly large amounts of data to be analysed.

“When you are looking at such huge amounts of data, you can start to derive patterns that go way beyond what you would find at an individual farm level,” he said. 

“That is really only just being enabled by the increasing speed and lowering in cost of computing.”

Mr Heath said a direct result of the reduced cost of computing was a lower barrier to entry for smaller companies. 

“This results in the whole start-up environment where you’ve got a couple of data scientists sitting in a bedroom thinking this is a great idea,” he said. 

“There’s a lot of that happening, a lot of it is very immature with a lot of hype and not necessarily delivering robust products.

“But it is stimulating the market.”

Australian Farm Institute, general manager research, Richard Heath

Australian Farm Institute, general manager research, Richard Heath

Mr Heath said while the number of products becoming available is creating a confusing marketplace, the amount of activity serves to encourage investment. 

“The little guys coming in and applying competitive and innovative pressure is disruptive,” he said. 

“This forces the big guys to come along and acquire the product or develop their own products.”

While digital agriculture and data collection software has been available to farmers in Australia for about two decades, Mr Heath said the start-up culture is what has changed the scene.

That’s the difference, there was no start up community involved in precision agriculture - Richard Heath

“That’s the difference now, there was no start up community involved in precision agriculture,” he said. 

“Precision agriculture was innovative growers and machinery companies, 

“It didn’t really extend beyond agriculture at all.

Mr Heath said non-agricultural and non-traditional partners were investing in the digital agriculture space.

“This latest iteration of digital agriculture is going well beyond agriculture,.

“In terms of the people that are looking to provide products and seeing opportunities. 

“Microsoft, Apple, all sorts of companies are eyeing off the opportunities in agriculture.”

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