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Sheep on a farm in Tasmania, Australia. Photo credit: Gary Along / Unsplash

To meet its billion-dollar agricultural output goal, Australia must do more to support agtech innovation

October 7, 2020

Editor’s note: Justin Webb is co-founder and executive chairman at AgriWebb, a provider of management software for cattle and sheep farms based in Sydney, Australia. The views expressed in this article represent those of the author.

The Australian government’s Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment has admitted there is much to be done to reach the National Farmers’ Federation’s A$100 billion ($71.2 billion) agricultural production goal.

Consequently, members of the industry will have been hoping that this year’s federal budget, unveiled yesterday, would place a big focus on supporting Australia’s agriculture industry.

The budget contains a range of measures aimed at us in the farming sector, including funding to boost exports, tax breaks on new equipment, and subsidies to help employ young Australians. Our national R&D agency, CSIRO, received A$5 million ($3.57 million) to upgrade its agricultural and grazing research facilities as part of a broader A$459 million ($328 million) package.

But, going forward, we want to see a genuine commitment to delivering the full potential of primary production in the 21st century. This rests on the government taking active tangible steps to encourage investment in the creation and adoption of vital technology and innovation. As it stands, despite agriculture contributing around A$62.2 billion ($44.3 billion) to the national economy, it is the least digitalized industry in Australia. This has to change.

Agtech is, at its core, the digitalization of the records and protocols of food production to increase productivity. Ultimately, we — producers and consumers — are all seeking to sustainably increase output while maintaining or reducing inputs. Which, by definition, is an increase in productivity.

Technology is box-seated to be a solution to this productivity paradox. South Australia’s bold and pioneering Red Meat and Wool Growth Program — which incentivizes the adoption of productive tools on farm — is a clear example of the multiplier effect that investment in agricultural technology realises.

Imagine how much more value agriculture could provide, not just in billions of dollars, but in terms of traceable quality and marketable provenance? If the Australian government backed farmers to have access to the latest tools and technology, the cumulative benefits of productivity, provenance, and robust socioeconomic benefit is immense.

Agriculture is the only industry that, through encouraged and incentivized proliferation of technology and operational practices, can become sustainably and demonstrably carbon negative.

Australia also holds an ephemeral opportunity to immediately implement true food security from field-to-fork, unlocking not only domestic consumers but international export markets that are demanding evidentiary provenance for a food demand that outstrips their domestic production.

We want to see a federally-backed initiative that provides significant financial incentives to farmers looking to adopt the latest accretive tools aimed at sustainable productivity increases. Surely the opportunity to secure a healthy future for the planet while concurrently facilitating safe food production is enough of a motivator for bipartisan political action?

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