Australia’s NFF to Launch Big Data Farm Management Tool, Agtech Incubator and Online Portal

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The Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnball, has introduced three new ag initiatives designed to help the country’s agriculture industry take advantage of cutting-edge technological developments.

Agriculture technology innovation has been slow to develop in Australia, bar a few exceptions, despite the huge amounts of research coming out of its universities and public institutions. Many agtech entrepreneurs have opted to relocate to the US for its larger addressable market and a more developed venture capital and startup community.

But Australia’s agriculture industry is booming as Turnbull predicts the industry will generate $1.2 trillion between now and 2030. “This year alone, agriculture is predicted to reap a record farm-gate return of $57.6 billion,” he said in a statement.

Aiming to support and capitalize on this growth, The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) is spearheading the initiatives, which include an incubator for agtech startups called Sprout — one of the first in the Southern Hemisphere; an online information portal; and a publicly-available digital big data analysis and farm management tool — the National Farmers’ Digital Agriculture Service.

The NFF is rolling out these initiatives alongside a number of commercial partners including global professional services company Accenture, public accounting firm Crowe Horwath, superannuation fund Prime Super, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, global telecommunications provider Vodafone, and supermarket chain Coles.

The incubator, which is being launched in partnership with financial advisory and accounting firm Findex — the parent company of Crowe Horwath, will identify, foster and promote innovations in the food and agriculture sector. NFF and Findex have assembled a highly skilled assessment panel to vet innovations and will create relationships with potential investors. The first round of applications for Sprout will open in early 2016.

“As the pace of innovation globally continues to increase, we need pathways to identify the best ideas and get them to market sooner in order to remain at the cutting edge,” said NFF CEO Simon Talbot in a press release.

The online information portal will aim to connect agribusiness professionals and deliver them up-to-date news, weather, and market data. The platform will also feature blogs, best practices resources, and ways for farmers to connect and collaborate. Vodafone will play a role in establishing the network, and described its involvement as a show of its renewed commitment to the region, according to the release. The platform will launch in May 2016.

And lastly, but not least, NFF is collaborating with Accenture to create an online big data analysis and farm management tool, similar to the range of data services emerging from the US, such as Conservis, Granular, FarmLogs, and OnFarm. The Digital Agriculture Service will turn “vast quantities of data into high-performance farm management — generating higher yields while lowering costs”, according to the website.

The NFF aims to launch a publicly available service for all farmers in July, and then offer specific solutions to cotton, horticulture and beef farmers in late 2016, with other commodities to follow later, according to the release.

While entering a new growth phase, Australian agriculture is also seeing a boost in academics, after the University of Sydney reported a 75 percent increase in students graduating with bachelor’s degrees in agricultural sciences between 2010 and 2015. Melbourne University also reported a 63 percent increase in agricultural course enrollments.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, however, the number of farmers fell by 40 percent between 1981 and 2011, with most students holding ag-related degrees opting for positions as analysts, consultants, and scientists over farming.

New, homegrown agriculture technologies may, therefore, hold the key to reinvigorating interest in farming while helping Australia’s existing farmers to do more with less.

Is this the long-awaited boost Australia’s agriculture technology sector was waiting for? What do you think? Email

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