Feb 9, 2021 published by Food Agility

Farmers perspective on agtech: Andrew Whitlock

In our latest blog we hear how farmer and founder of Precision Agriculture Pty Ltd, Andrew Whitlock, is using agtech to better understand soil health and how farmers can harness technology to demonstrate their sustainability credentials.
Andrew Whitlock is a farmer and founder of Precision Agriculture Pty Ltd.

Focusing on your farm as a system

It’s important to understand the biological systems of your farm because ultimately that will drive decisions and profitability.

“I have a focus on understanding soil on my farm using various technologies and data tracking. It’s fundamental to get a handle on soils to maximise productivity and profitability.”

EM38 mapping helps gain an understanding of the top 1.2 metres of soil, enabling the definition of soil textural zones for zonal management strategies.

There are now digital platforms available to manage this type of soil testing data, including spatial soil fertility maps, and GPS-referenced soil sample data to monitor trends over time.

In the future, I hope to utilise a digital platform for managing all our spatial data, including monitoring pastures using a platform like Pastures from Space, and generally anything that will improve our soil knowledge and in particular how to build soil carbon.

The best agtech solves a real-world problem

Agtech suppliers often fail to realise that many farmers just want to get on with farming, and don’t want to have to deal with tech if they can help it. You need tech that must be able to solve a problem or improve decision making. Technology needs to save time, not take up time.

“Farmers are often time poor, they need reliable products that can demonstrate they are backed up with good science and validated in real-world scenarios.”

Seeing, learning and doing

In 2009, I started the Precision Agriculture business and also spent 7 years in government helping farmers implement precision ag. During this time, I found that demo sites and group learning were most effective methods of trialling new technology and systems. Farmers want to see and learn. With agtech or any technology there are often barriers to adoption and it doesn’t take too many barriers for tech to not be adopted.

Barriers to agtech uptake

There are a few barriers to agtech uptake in Australia:

  • Connectivity issues
  • Getting tech to work in tractors because there is no standardisation, though tech is getting better at being more ‘plug and play’
  • Complexities of tech being not easy to use and lack of local backup support
  • Lack of training, especially on-ground, to show farmers how to use it
  • Time - time to learn, time to implement

Agtech and sustainability

There’s no doubt that the social license to farm is going to be a big issue that can’t be ignored, and farmers have to be on the front foot when it comes to public perception. Farmers are passionate about their environment, and a healthy environment delivers profitability.

“Agtech is helping measure and demonstrate to consumers, and business we sell to, that we are sustainable in our operations.”

Source: Andrew Whitlock

Agtech decision-making and networks

Agtech should be supporting you to make smart decisions by providing the information you need to make businesses more profitable through improved decision-making. We’re all getting better at embracing technology on farm, even though we may have been seeing low adoption rates in Australia.

You need to know what the problem is you’re trying to solve on your farm and the economic benefits of using any agtech products. Many farmers rely on advice from trusted advisors such as agronomists or consultants, so it is important to include these service providers in the adoption process.

"Vendors of agtech need to get out on farm and interact with the farming business. I’d say come talk to us, you’d be welcome with open arms!"

There are plenty of farmers interested in agtech, and I see opportunity for establishing farmer networks including those that could be part of on farm trials for agtech start-ups.

 

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