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How can Victoria grow their number of agtech startups to help support the agriculture industry?

Known as the food bowl of Australia, Victoria is currently the largest exporter of agricultural produce in the country. Over a quarter of Australia’s producers live in the state. But the Victorian agriculture industry is struggling to overcome some significant obstacles. These include:

  • Climate change

  • Extreme weather conditions

  • Pest infestations

  • Drought

  • Bushfires

  • Labour shortages

  • Increasing consumer supply demands.

Many of the obstacles faced by the sector are directly related to climate change. Not only is it affected by climate change, but it’s also a significant contributor to the problem. It was fourth on the list of the highest emission producers in Victoria in 2018.

Faced with these obstacles, the agriculture sector in Victoria needs to improve its productivity, profitability and sustainability. A further complication is that the state’s global trading partners want producers to reduce their emissions output, or they may stop trading, threatening Victoria’s title as the largest exporter of agriculture in Australia.

What is agtech, and how can it help agriculture?

Agtech (agricultural technology) is any innovation or technology applied to agriculture. The goal of agtech is to improve productivity, efficiency and sustainability by using modern technology to solve issues facing the agricultural industry. The National Farmers’ Federation set a goal in 2017 to grow the sector to $100 billion by 2030, and technology and innovation are the only way the industry can achieve this ambitious goal.

Agriculture is used to having to adapt to meet changing needs. Farmers have been innovating to solve on-farm problems since farming first began. But agtech has taken farm innovation to a new level by introducing new business models, technologies and players. These new players are:

  • Startups

  • Young entrepreneurs

  • Scientists

  • Researchers

  • Students

  • Aspiring agtech startup companies

  • Accelerators

  • Farmers.

What are some of the application opportunities for Agtech in agriculture?

The opportunities to build technical capabilities in this sector are limitless. Some ideas and potential applications could include (but aren't limited to):

  • Farm management software: using AI and IoT to capture data to help inform on-farm decision making

  • Supply chain and food technologies: the use of blockchain to enhance food safety and traceability through the supply chain

  • Robotics and mechanisation: automation can help overcome labour shortages and increase efficiency and productivity

  • Energy technologies: help combat rising energy costs impacting many farms

  • Innovations in food development and processing: plant-based meat alternatives

  • Novel farming systems: aquaculture and insect, algae and microbe production.

What is the current state of the Victorian agtech startup ecosystem?

According to research by LaunchVic, there are currently only 40 Victorian agtech startups, accounting for only 2% of all startups in Victoria. What is causing further problems is that of those 40, over 80% are in Melbourne. Having solution providers (startups) located in the city and producers residing in regional areas creates a disconnect between the parties.

Regional startups are also at a disadvantage as they don’t have access to tools, resources, support programs and the networks they need to build their new agtech startups.

How can the agtech ecosystem in Victoria be accelerated?

Research has shown that incorporating technology into the agricultural industry can increase production by as much as twenty-five per cent. Despite this, the industry in Victoria has been one of the slowest to adopt technology. Resistance to technology is commonly caused by:

  • Weak value propositions–a service or product that misses the target and fails to solve a producer’s problem

  • Cost of implementing technology

  • Lack of Infrastructure–digital connectivity to regional areas is often an issue

  • Data issues–storage and privacy concerns around the collection and usage of data

  • Producers lack the skills to use the proposed innovations and technologies.

Another problem is that the Victorian agtech startup ecosystem is too small to support the sector's needs.

Knowing the pressure the agriculture industry is under, the Victorian Government has provided $2.2 million in funding to launch the Victorian Agtech Entrepreneurs Initiative. The initiative is a partnership between Agriculture Victoria and Victoria’s startup agency, LaunchVic. The purpose behind the funding is to significantly boost the size of the Victorian agtech ecosystem by backing pre-accelerator programs to encourage agtech entrepreneurs.

The pre-accelerator programs will support people who can help solve on-farm problems or issues within the agriculture industry by applying their tech idea or innovation. The startup programs aim to foster entrepreneurial ambitions and innovative ideas by supporting people—or teams—to build and grow their startups.

It’s important to note that you don’t currently have to be involved in agriculture. For example, you may be a:

  • Researcher or research team

  • Tech developer

  • Student

  • Budding entrepreneur

All you need to get started is a willingness to bring your startup idea to the table and work with producers to find solutions to their problems.

How can Farmers2Founders help?

Our FREE TEKLAB VIC pre-accelerator program is sponsored by LaunchVic and Agriculture Victoria. Our program aims to uncover innovative agtech ideas and commercialisation prospects to solve Victoria's on-farm and agricultural industry challenges. To be able to apply, applicants must live in Victoria, be actively looking to test and validate an agtech business idea and want to build an agtech startup.

Applications are open for TEKLAB VIC.

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