Innovation is changing the way we have traditionally thought about farming. Innovation in agriculture will allow the sector to become more profitable, productive, and sustainable. With threats such as climate change, extreme weather, labour shortages and increasing consumer demand, the agriculture industry needs to embrace innovation and encourage entrepreneurship to better position itself to respond to the issues affecting the industry.
With the adoption of innovation into agriculture (agtech) being a popular topic, we recently spoke to industry leaders Sonya Comiskey and Darryl Lyons about where they see opportunities for innovation and technology to be incorporated into agriculture in Australia.
Sonya Comiskey – Southern Cross Beef
Sonya Comiskey is a recognised industry leader, founder and Australian Nuffield scholar. She is the managing director of a branded beef business in regional. Sonya is a passionate and enthusiastic advocate for the beef industry, regional development, and successfully cultivating a world-leading Australian agtech ecosystem.
When we asked Sonya what areas of Australian agriculture she felt were the readiest to be changed by innovation or technology, she shared with us her experiences when she travelled overseas as part of her scholarship travel before COVID-19.
“…when I went around the world, no matter whether it was a third world country, or a first world country, or what commodity I was looking at, the same problems came up over and over again…they were around access to and the cost of labour, the cost of energy and inputs like fertiliser, weather…and the fragility of the supply chain,” said Sonya.
She feels that these problems have increased significantly since the onset of COVID-19, making them areas that are ripe for innovation and the adoption of technology because they are likely to have the most significant impact on restricting the growth of the agriculture sector in Australia.
Sonya also discussed with us how she feels the adoption of technology and innovation has been driven by need, citing necessity as the mother of all inventions.
“..in industries like horticulture, we've seen an incredible reduction in the access to labour, where we previously had access to international backpackers and seasonal workers...and so I've observed that there's been quite a fast increase in the path to market for robotics companies. And some of those organisations that are now adopting trials for robotic picking and packing might not have gotten as much traction… because the impetus wasn't there to solve a NOW problem,” said Sonya.
Sonya also believes consumers are driving a lot of the need for change in agriculture, with some of the technology introduced relating to environmental responsibility and traceability, such as blockchain technology which offers supply chain transparency.
Sonya also discussed the importance of technology being created to solve a customer’s (producer’s) problem and not just having ‘cool tech’ being shopped around looking for a problem. She feels that this is an important piece of the puzzle, and believes Australia has a strong reputation for ‘batting above its weight’ when it comes to innovation.
With agtech still very new in Australia, with investment being low compared to other countries, and with a very small taxpayer base, she feels that our large geographical and export output puts us in the box seat when it comes to exporting IP and technology. This puts viable Australian agtech startups in a strong position for global export, making agtech a great opportunity for entrepreneurs if they have a tech idea that will solve an on-farm or industry issue.
Darryl Lyons – Founder, Entrepreneur, Agritech
Darryl Lyons is an experienced leader, operational specialist and indigenous entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience in business development, Australian agriculture, startups, IoT and commercial construction. Darryl is the agtech expert in residence here at Farmers2Founders. He is also the Indigenous entrepreneur in residence at James Cook University and co-founder of tech company escaVox.
Darryl felt that the same areas of agriculture are ripe for innovation as Sonya, in particular, the supply chain. His own company, escaVox, works in that space, and he felt that COVID-19 really highlighted the fragility of the supply chain in agriculture.
Darryl also thinks that climate variability is one of the greatest challenges—and provides the greatest opportunities—in the Australian agriculture industry.
“…in North Queensland, we probably have one of the most variable climates in the world. So there are a whole lot of challenges where producers have to actually still be productive with these huge extremes and variability. So, there's a big opportunity with different technologies and diversification and forecasting to ensure they can kind of maintain and increase production,” said Darryl.
Darryl agrees with Sonya on the potential for global export.
“..anyone who's creating a product that solves a solution for producers here is really creating a worldwide solution. And that's the opportunity. And also, our producers aren't subsidised like a lot of other countries around the world. So, they have to be innovative. And the ones who have survived have been through generations of innovation and adaptation. So, it's inherent in our producers to look for better ways and other ways to kind of be more productive,” said Darryl.
How can Farmers2Founders help you?
We are the only agtech training provider in Australia that offers fully integrated program pathways that can help you navigate the different stages of your business journey. We can show you how to validate your business idea, build your startup, and commercialise your business internationally.
And remember, you don't currently have to be involved in agriculture to start an agtech business. All you need is a tech idea or innovation that you think can help solve an on-farm issue or industry problem.
Do you have an idea but are unsure whether it would work? You can book a 1:1 coaching session with us if you need some guidance or want to explore your agtech idea further. We'd love to work with you!