Tech buzzwords in agriculture come and go, but it's clear artificial intelligence (AI) and precision agriculture are not just buzzwords.
They already have a real impact across the agribusiness sector.
Fifteen years ago farmers got excited that GPS technology could deliver straight lines down a paddock - now the excitement is around what AI can offer when we use big data and predictive modelling.
RSM Australia's recent Agtech Report: Breaking New Ground highlights the breadth of that innovation and a real agri sector appetite to adopt new technology.
When farmers see tech that will reduce their imports, save money and lead to higher yields, they are happy to be first adopters.
However, farmers must juggle a huge number of data sets of information each day, so the challenge is co-ordinating this data into meaningful business intelligence.
Triage for farm data
AI is being used to triage multiple sets of data (garnered from soil sensors, yield monitors, drone footage and more) so it is user-friendly - combining climate, sales and crop planning data to name a few.
Any size farm, whether crop planting or running livestock, can put this powerful information to work for them.
In a high interest rates and inflationary environment, the cost savings of precision agriculture are significant.
WA's Planfarm recently highlighted the use of AI to analyse data from weed-detecting cameras on spray booms and predict where spraying is required.
This has been effective for broadleaf weed control (a major expense with cereal crops), saving about 90 per cent of herbicide cost for summer spraying.
Soil test, spray savings
Similarly, use of AI in soil testing provides the ability to know when to reduce or increase seed and fertiliser.
Using variable spraying, seeding and fertiliser applications saves money and makes the inputs work more efficiently.
Along with the appetite for agtech, there is an understanding that tech and sustainability go hand in hand in the farming sector.
As we move towards carbon neutrality, there will be consumer and supply chain pressure on farmers to decarbonise.
The easiest way to reduce your carbon footprint is to grow more efficiently with more tonnes of grain or kilos of beef per hectare.
Targeted chemical and fertiliser usage via precision agriculture should create an immediate emissions reduction.
Given Australia's larger companies soon must be reporting on their scope 3 emissions from their value chain AI will be invaluable to their suppliers.
Big processors and exporters will require data.
If growers want to sell into certain markets, they'll need to be reporting on their own emissions.
Costco in the US is demanding Australian producers be up front about scope 3 emissions, already requiring farmers to provide this level of detail.
Agriculture's access to finance will also be impacted.
When banks report their scope 3 emissions, they'll be rewarding growers with a neutral carbon footprint as opposed to those with significant carbon emissions.
Technology will have a big role to play in the goal towards carbon neutrality, whether by developing seaweed supplements that reduce cows' methane by 80pc, building carbon into soil to improve farm viability and profitability, or use of gene technology to future-proof Australia's cattle industry against climate change.
Matthew Warnken of carbon soil project developer, AgriProve, saw an opportunity where carbon credits form an incentive for better farm management practices.
He registered Australia's first soil carbon project way back in 2015 and now sees a large number of highly innovative and intuitive farmers achieving great results on their land.
AgriProve uses an evidence-based measurement approach.
Rather than take land out of production by planting trees or removing livestock, AgriProve uses data and measurement to enhance the crop.
Recent projects include Rocking Chair Farm near Dungog and Fysh, a 393-hectare Queensland cattle property where sowing a multi-species seed mix on farm has led to a 400pc carrying capacity rise.
Matthew says regenerative farming is to agriculture what renewables has become to the energy sector.
Decarbonising agriculture is the next big change that must be delivered to achieve a safe climate, he says, and this requires that every hectare of agricultural land be actively managed for carbon, soil conservation and nature repair.
However, this presents serious existential challenges to the conventional agricultural model - challenges that technological adoption will be able to meet.
Around the same time as AgriProve was recognising carbon credit yield benefits, Keith Hay put his dairy farming origins to good use creating breeding technologies business GeneFlow.
It uses genetics to improve beef and dairy cattle quality characteristics such feed conversion efficiency and lower heat susceptibility.
He says genetics is our only hope for changing the Australian herd in time to deal with climate change, and these advances will rely on technology.
Decarbonising will involve the whole supply chain.
Coles and Woolies in Australia already market carbon neutral meats.
In fact, one of the real silver linings about this increased focus on carbon neutrality will be the requirement to work together to solve the problem.
Technology and AI are going to play a massive role in terms of helping farmers to track all this.
They will enable farmers to harness accurate data so they can put a hand over heart when they report to major customers or suppliers that require ESG and carbon information.
- Ross Paterson is national agribusiness lead with professional services firm, RSM Australia, and Mathavan Parameswaran is RSM's national technology lead.