For the Australian farming sector to thrive, our people, along with our paddocks, need to be better connected.
The first day of the EvokeAg conference drove this point home, bringing together more than 1,300 people from across the farming and agricultural technology sectors, in an effort to drive innovation forward.
Opening the conference, platinum sponsor, Elders managing director Mark Allison said improving communications infrastructure was essential for the future of farm productivity.
"We need to raise connectivity levels across rural and regional Australia to at least comparable standards as those enjoyed by our major agriculture competitors, the US and Canada, to ensure we are competitive on a global scale," he said.
"In the Sunraysia there are farmers adopting the latest technology. An agronomist in the area can now carry farm planning information, weather reports and radars, satellite imagery, irrigation information and pest and disease modelling in their smart phone.
"If only they could actually connect to the network.
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"In some instances, making a phone call involves standing on shed roof and waving the phone in the air in the hope of stumbling across a couple of bars of reception.
"This challenge must be addressed. It also needs to be front of mind in any start-up meeting room discussion on product development."
NBN Co chief development officer for regional and remote Gavin Williams said NBN Co recognised the opportunities agricultural technology could deliver to Australian farmers, and the importance communication technology played in moving the industry forward.
"We have built solutions, including business satellite, our consumer grade SkyMuster products and investments in fixed wireless," he said.
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"We are now recruiting a level of thought leadership in key segments, including agricultural technology, that will enable us to accelerate our engagement with industry, from primary producers through to service providers, and work with the industry to tune practical solutions for the farming sector.
"NBN was set up to deliver connectivity to addressable residences, the clear and obvious gap here is how do we ensure no paddock is left behind."
Pitching a paddock-based communications solution to the crowd, Zetifi Gateway founder and CEO Dan Winson said by using his company's proprietary solution, farmers could get off-grid connectivity at a fraction of the cost of alternative solutions, while maintaining the speed and reliability of service they required.
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"Zetifi is working hard to remove one of the primary barriers to ag technology adoption, connectivity," he said.
"We are working hard to get farmers connected, we are getting their phones working and we are giving them access to broadband internet, not just in the house, but out in the paddocks.
"Two-thirds of Australian farms have very poor mobile coverage, and the situation isn't likely to change without new technology."
Event organiser, AgriFutures Australia managing director John Harvey said while the success of the event was a testament to the support of the Australian agtech industry, he was particularly pleased with the interest seen from overseas investors.
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"We have over 220 people from overseas, representing 22 different countries," he said.
"This event is showcasing the momentum of the Australian start-up sector, we are seeing our start-ups move into round two funding and capital raising, that is amazing in the 12 months since we last held EvokeAg.
"Connecting our sector is vital."
Mr Harvey said next year's EvokeAg conference would be held in Western Australia, with support of the state's government.
"We designed EvokeAg. to be bold, brave and to bring together the Australia, New Zealand and Asia Pacific agrifood tech ecosystem," he said.
"It is therefore critical that we view what we do through a different lens, experience a different location and embrace a different landscape in order to create a movement that will drive real change across the entire region.
"This is not an event that is going to remain static, it needs to keep changing and evolving.
"I encourage all of our delegates - innovators, businesses, entrepreneurs, primary producers, researchers, universities and corporates to join us in the west for another great instalment of food, farm, future in February 2021,"
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