A Wagga Wagga-based company tackling poor internet and phone connectivity in rural Australia has won a $US500,000 prize in the American food and ag-tech competition, Grow-NY.
Zetifi has developed technology to improve connectivity problems in areas with limited access to broadband and little or no mobile coverage.
Dan Wilson is the tech start-up's founder and was delighted with the big win in a market the company has its sights on.
"Connectivity is not only an issue for rural and regional Australia, it's an enormous challenge for countries around the world including the US," Mr Wilson said.
"The contacts we've made through the Grow-NY competition and, of course, the $US500,000 in prize money will allow us to establish a presence in upstate New York and take our solutions to farmers across the US, sharing with them the technology we've developed and have been trialling successfully here in Australia."
Zetifi has done trials with farmers in Victoria and NSW and Mr Wilson said the company was on track to commercialise a viable model for eliminating mobile blackspots across Australia's farming regions.
One of these trials is with the support of Birchip Cropping Group (BCG), a not-for-profit research and extension organisation led by farmers from Victoria's Wimmera and Mallee regions.
Zetifi has commenced a pilot program to deliver cost-effective Wi-Fi solutions across a number of large farms while solving the mobile blackspot issues between Birchip and Sea Lake.
Grow-NY is a high-profile food and agriculture business competition that identifies, supports and funds the top food, beverage and agriculture innovations across the globe, with more than 260 companies putting entries forward this year.
Finishing in the top three was an enormous opportunity for Zetifi, Mr Wilson said, with the company now poised to establish a team in Rochester, New York state, to start trials of its products with farm machinery dealership, Monroe Tractor, a Case IH dealer with multiple locations across New York state.
"We recognise the challenges and frustrations poor connectivity presents to farmers who are being offered increasingly sophisticated technology in the likes of farm machinery but lack the access to the connectivity to take full advantage of it," Mr Wilson said.
"We know access to reliable internet and phone coverage is a game-changer to increase productivity and profitability for farm businesses as well as enhancing quality of life and the safety of rural residents, particularly on the farm and on the roads."
Mr Wilson said the benefits of improved connectivity were highlighted in research by the BCG which estimated poor mobile reception and internet coverage had the potential to reduce farm profitability by about $5 a hectare across the grainbelt of the Wimmera and Mallee region, equivalent to $15,000 a year for the average (3000ha) Victorian grains property.
As part of the BCG trials, Zetifi is trialling its ZetiCells and ZetiRovers, the former a long-range solar powered public Wi-Hi hotspot and the latter a portable Wi-Fi repeater fitted to a piece of machinery or vehicle.
The ZetiRover is also the focus of a series of trials Zetifi is doing in conjunction with Case IH Australia and NZ.
Case IH general manager for for Australia and New Zealand Pete McCann said reliable in-field connectivity was the key to realising the full potential of precision agriculture.
"That's a major concern for our customers so we're keen to work with companies that are devising ways to improve this connectivity," he said.
"We've been impressed with what we've seen to date with the ZetiRover and its ability to enable a machine's telematics, remote support and data transfer capabilities, along with Wi-Fi calling, messaging, email and internet access for the machine's operator."
For Cameron and Rachel Ferrier, who farm 1600ha between Birchip and Sea Lake in the southern Mallee and own one of the BCG trial properties, Zetifi's technology has allowed them to finally make phone calls and access the internet across about 85 per cent of the farm. Prior to the trial, as much as 40pc of the property had very poor or no mobile coverage.
"Every second counts in farming, and at sowing, harvest or when you've got a couple of hundred tonnes of fertiliser to spread before it rains, even the slightest delays can cost you thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. You don't want to be running around the farm trying to find reception or dropping calls to suppliers or truck drivers," Mr Ferrier said.