Researchers have gone straight to the source to find out what is preventing farmers from adopting agtech solutions.
Connectivity has once again been flagged as a barrier but interesting insights have emerged regarding the availability of services and interoperability of products.
The in-depth case study of critical factors to agtech adoption was conducted using an ecosystems approach in a rural community by a team from Queensland University of Technology's Digital Media Research Centre.
Dr Krystle Turner, herself based in a rural centre at Stanthorpe, presented the findings of this research at the 400M AgriFood Innovation Forum in Toowoomba.
She said reports such as Accelerating Precision to Decision Agriculture had found connectivity and trust were barriers to adoption on Australian farms.
However, Dr Turner said the problem of non- and under-adoption was not confined to Australia and similar contributing factors had been identified overseas.
Dr Turner said international studies of digital agtech adoption tend to centre on three areas.
She said these factors were not a surprise and the sector had been aware of and trying to address them for many years in Australia.
"Our team wanted to take a different approach to understand the hows and the whys digital technologies become embedded in rural communities, or not, as the case may be," Dr Turner said.
"To do so we built on emerging socio-cultural studies, which emphasise the role of community level networks in adoption over the influences of individual or farm level circumstances.
"Of course there are overlaps but shifting the focus draws out, we hope, some new insights for consideration."
Dr Turner said in 2020 and 2021 they visited the community three times in six months.
The group helped identify 10 key people within the community and interviews were conducted in person and via Zoom.
In the later stages of the study, the researchers attended an agtech focused event and tested their understanding of what they had heard from the community.
Dr Turner said they then took this qualitative data and analysed it thematically against an ecosystems framework with three layers - technological, discursive and social.
Dr Turner said what they found was a lack of ubiquitous mobile, broadband and IoT coverage in rural areas thwarts initial investment in digital agtech.
She said it also inhibits cost-benefit when investments are made and largely disincentives introduction.
The next barrier identified was the availability of technology and servicing within the ecosystem.
"While several providers may exist in a rural community, the true availability to farmers and other end users is influenced by physical proximity to the service provider and importantly, the knowledge of and preference for specific products, services and providers," she said.
Dr Turner said the adoption of new technologies was often dependent on prior investments and users want new devices and software to add value to existing setups.
"This was observed most clearly in people's acquisition of tractors and accessories from either John Deere or Case, for example," she said.
Dr Turner said the interoperability of data generated by hardware emerged as strong driver of, or barrier to, digital agtech adoption.
"The study shows interoperability and comparability of digital technologies and the data they generate is a crucial adoption factor," she said.
"There is no point investing in technology and collecting information if it cannot be aggregated and translated into on-farm decision making.
"The study revealed a disparity between digital and data related skills, knowledge and support required by farmers and others in the supply chain and the capacity of the local ecosystem to meet this need."
Dr Turner said individual attitudes and experiences of technology were an inescapable factor of adoption.
She said end users could exhibit a lack of trust in data quality, in terms of its integrity or accuracy, and consequently its value.
"Some farmers and agronomists believe the best source of truth is their own experience and tacit understanding of seeing and feeling soil moisture for themselves and consequently knowing the best way forward," she said.
"Others who subscribe to data driven decision making put more faith in numbers and the capability of technology to deliver accurate insights.
"Here the data divide is expressed as a tension between human and tacit knowledge and technologically curated data, which will remain at least until fully automated decision making is possible."
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