The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) says it has tens of millions of dollars ready to kick-start an agricultural innovation hub to be launched by the Prime Minister today.
It is part of a broad strategy by the NFF to harn ss new technology and big data to cut the costs of production and boost output. “Digital agriculture is the next wave of productivity” and could add as much as $6 billion to farm income over the next four years, according to NFF chief executive Simon Talbot. “We need pathways to identify the best ideas and get them to market sooner in order to remain at the cutting edge,” Mr Talbot said. Malcolm Turnbull, together with Mr Talbot, will today launch the NFF’s innovation hub for agricultural technologies, called ‘Sprout’, at the Elizabeth
Mcarthur Agricultural Institute at Menangle, south-west of Sydney.
Mr Talbot said the tech-incubator would identify, foster and promote the best new ideas in the food and agribusiness arena and match innovators with likeminded Australian companies to fund and develop the technologies and take
them to the world.
“Think Shark Tank,” he said, referring to Channel Ten’s reality TV show linking budding entrepreneurs with titans of industry.
The NFF, he said, had worked with accountancy and financial advice firm Crowe Horwath to form an expert panel to assess projects, and already had capital partners. “We’re talking about tens of millions of dollars available,” Mr Talbot said.
The hub is looking at various models of financing, including crowd-funding, investors buying shares in an emerging incubator-tested company, or through very low-interest loans. We’ve got enough capital to prime the pump and get the first 10 projects through, and then it’s a virtuous cycle.”
The first round of applications for Sprout will open early next year.
“One thing I am determined to solve is the frustration of young agribusiness professionals having to leave Australia to go to the US, Israel or Europe to test or trial new ideas,” Mr Talbot said.
“We need to keep entrepreneurs in Australia and we need 10 times the entrepreneurs we have in agriculture.”
Ag-entrepreneur forced to find start-up funds in US
When young Victorian farmer William Pattison wanted to start up a website selling farmers’ produce direct to consumers, no-one in Australia would train him or back the project. Last year he was forced to travel to the US state of Iowa, where the Iowa. Start-up Accelerator offered him $20,000 and business training in return for a 6 per cent stake in his business. He launched Produce Run in the US, with 30,000 US small and organic
farmers on the books.
He said direct web sales were major disruptors to traditional marketing channels with supermarkets, that could see farmers get double the money for their product. “We applied to the AngelCube Accelerator in Melbourne but didn’t get in, it wasn’t what their portfolio was looking for,” Mr Pattison said. “We could obviously see consumer demand, and we looked for seed capital and a strategic capital and found that overseas in Iowa.”
Big data and farmers
The NFF is also unveiling its Digital Agriculture Service, established in collaboration with business and technology management consultancy Accenture.
It aims to collate, correlate and interpret the vast amount of data being collected by and about agricultural businesses, and provide farmers with new tools to improve their decision making and productivity.
“Currently it’s too hard for farmers to join all the dots,” Accenture managing director Anthony Willmott said.
Being able to link information about soil moisture, pasture growth, cattle genetics and herd rotation so that animals can be sold at the optimum time, he said, could earn a farmer another $80 a head.
“By creating a service by farmers, for farmers, the NFF and Accenture will avoid the scenario playing out overseas where
farmers are locked into a particular service provider,” Mr Talbot said.
“The NFF will ensure farmers’ data is securely held for their benefit, rather than the benefit of a third party.”
Late next year the NFF aims to launch a publicly available service for the cotton industry.
The national farming body has also redesigned its online platform in a bid to more effectively connect producers,
agribusiness professionals and consumers.
Mr Talbot conceded that many of the NFF’s initiatives required reliable internet connectivity — something not available in many parts of regional Australia.”That changes in March to April next year,” he said.
“We’ve been working with the NBN to make sure satellites are effective in delivering a digital solution to farmers.
“We are also working with Vodafone on on-farm solutions and on narrow-band networks to have on-farm wi-fi connectivity up to a 15km radius.”
Mr Talbot said this time next year Australian agriculture would be “digitally lit up”.
“We need to be sure we are ready to educate, provide data and analytical skills and the systems and tools needed to become better farmers.
“We are adopting a similar model to Israeli agriculture which had a 15 per cent productivity uplift in four years.
“If we achieve that in Australia we are talking $5 to $6 billion of potential new income to Australian farmers.”
Author: Dominique Schwartz and Sarina Locke, ABC Rural