Drought, climate variability, biosecurity, global competition and consumer preferences are some of the greatest challenges facing Australian farmers, their impacts threatening our position amongthe most efficient primary producers in the world. However, Australia’s primary producers have a long history of embracing innovation and adopting technology to improve productivity and adapt to harsh conditions.
The Future of Agricultural Technologies report released today by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) identifies and discusses the technologies that could address these challenges and bring about both incremental and transformational changes to increase the profitability, sustainability and productivity of our agriculture industry.
The report was commissioned by Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel AO on behalf of the National Science and Technology Council, with support from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. It is the fifth report in ACOLA’s Horizon Scanning series, which draws on the expertise of Australia’s Learned Academies and the Royal Society of Te ApÄrangi.
“Australia’s diverse agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector is a $69 billion industry, delivering significant benefits for our nation—particularly at a time where our economy is facing unprecedented challenges. However, reaching the Government’s goal of $100 billion by 2030 will likely require more than just incremental technological advancements,” Dr Finkel said.
“Historically, Australian producers have been rapid adopters of innovation, and these emerging technologies will help our agriculture sector to transform and tackle current and future challenges.”
Professor Stewart Lockie, one of the Chairs for the ACOLA Expert Working Group, said, “Innovation in our agriculture sector is critical for our economy, our food security and so much more. With a supportive policy environment, workforce and investment, we are confident that the future of agriculture in Australia will be one in which data analytics and artificial intelligence are as at-home on the farm as they are in any other high-tech industry”.
The digitisation of farms through the ‘Internet of Things’ and data gathering and use will likely play a central role in future farm management strategies, allowing farms to track resources, monitor animal and plant health, support farm labour activities and enable precision agriculture.
Other technologies could help us develop new products to meet climatic conditions and respond to consumer preferences, such as authenticating a product’s origins and quality assurance.
ACOLA Chair, Professor Joy Damousi said that increasing technology uptake in our agriculture sector can also help Australia to maximise opportunities for regional employment, business development and Indigenous landholders. She also noted that there are clear roles for all stakeholders in supporting the sector to realise the potential of these new technologies, including to stimulate the agricultural technology and innovation ecosystemand build consumer confidence.
The report examines the opportunities presented by nine technologies to improve the efficiency and profitability of agricultural production, develop novel agricultural industries and markets, and to contribute to a range of social and environmental values. The report explores technologies such as sensors, the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, machine learning, large scale optimisation and data fusion, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and distributed ledger technology. Importantly, the report highlightsthe range of challenges and considerations for governments, industry and the wider sector to further develop and enable the adoption of these technologies.