Farm management and precision agriculture tools and apps have been popping up like mushrooms and disappearing just as quickly for almost twenty years. While it's a business model that suits the Silicon Valley venture capitalist, it has potentially hindered the widespread adoption of precision agriculture.
Proagrica business development director Mark Pawsey said a significant handbrake on the adoption of precision agriculture across Australia had been the sheer number of niche tools available, many of which lack the scale or stability to offer long-term solutions.
We haven't had a marketplace for digital agriculture. We have had a lot of small vendors and small pockets of activity that are disconnected. There isn't a lot of money in agriculture - you need scale to survive.
"We haven't had a marketplace for digital agriculture. We have had a lot of small vendors and small pockets of activity that are disconnected. There isn't a lot of money in agriculture - you need scale to survive," he said.
"We have let the technology lead the innovation, we need to go back to basics and ask what the farmer wants, what the service industry needs to support the farmer, what does the supply chain need to function more efficiently and present agriculture to Asia and other international markets in terms of traceability and quality control point of view."
Mr Pawsey began his journey with precision agriculture in 2001, managing Queensland Cotton's SkyAg business which provided agronomic bench-marking of cotton through a company called SST Software.
Following Queensland Cotton's divestment of its agronomic business unit, Mr Pawsey went on to front SST Australia, providing services to a number of agribusinesses and companies, a business model which is ramping up since its sale to global data giant Proagrica last year.
Proagrica continue to offer the latest generation of SST's software suite, Sirrus, Summit and FarmRite as well as its underpinning geospatial service platform AgX.
While many platforms have come and gone over the past 20 years, Mr Pawsey said a key factor in SST's success was that it concentrated on building a long lasting, standardised infrastructure to its platform.
He said that allowed all data that was entered to be stored spatially, whether that was a yield map, a spray application or the crop variety.
"SST took the approach that we needed to build an infrastructure so that we could build the right products for market," he said.
"Everyone was working on point to point tools, but we were listening to the market who said they needed consistency, synchronisation and standardisation so they could run a business.
"The approach we took was that it needed to be spatial. We believe agriculture is inherently spatial and if you try to deal with it any other way you are going to shortcut the farmer in the longer term.
"I think that has played itself out to be true, all the new technology coming through is spatial, we were ahead of our time. It cost us a lot until we got it into a usable form, which has evolved into the AgX platform, but now it represents what the industry wants and needs - interoperability, standardisation and synchronisation."
Time for precision
Mr Pawsey said he was now seeing a significant uptake in precision agriculture adoption.
"We are starting to see farmers and agronomists look at the data and understand what it means to them, particularly around the concept of zonal management, that a field is not just a field, it is a cluster of management zones, and get some confidence in managing that," he said.
"We've had variable rate for almost twenty years, and are now seeing some confidence from the farmer and the agronomist that the approach can work, but the focus has to be on return on investment and usability."
Mr Pawsey said the convergence of cloud technology and automated data sharing was driving uptake.
"No one wants to grapple with file formats, it is counterproductive," he said.
"We are at the point where machinery data can flow in and be useful without much management input, we are finally on the frontier of usability and efficiency."
Mr Pawsey said precision agriculture did not need to be complicated.
"Proagrica is building a cloud transform application programming interface (API) that knows whether a file is John Deere or Ag Leader, and can transform it against the field boundary to automatically deliver it back to the user as a map.
"For the user, just being able to look at a yield map and extract the information from that is valuable, it's that simple."
Mr Pawsey said Proagrica acquiring SST was an exciting step forward.
"Now not only are we an agronomic data company, we are also a supply chain company, managing transactions between retailers and manufacturers," he said.
"We are now starting to connect agronomy to enterprise and supply chain and I think that is where it gets exciting. Advice doesn't always have to be about more yield, it could be about running the farm more efficiently, making sure product is available and arrives on time."