Agtech the future of farming

Agtech Opinion: Andrew Lai, Sprout X


On Farm
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Andrew Lai from Sprout X

While technology in agriculture is nothing new, the term “agtech” is much more of a recent phenomenon.

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OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: SproutX is the the home of Australian agtech.  It is the world's most active agtech investor through it's accelerator program and the goal is to enable entrepreneurship within agriculture. Photo supplied.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: SproutX is the the home of Australian agtech. It is the world's most active agtech investor through it's accelerator program and the goal is to enable entrepreneurship within agriculture. Photo supplied.

Rather than simply referring to technology within the agricultural sector, it is a byproduct of the broader international startup movement.

There has been a radical change at the top tiers of business over the last few years, now the the largest companies in the world are technology companies.  

Apple, Google and Amazon are respectively the three largest biggest by market capitalisation, each worth over a trillion Australian dollars but incredibly are continuing to grow rapidly. Their tremendous success has sparked a renewed interest in technology and what it can do for specific industries like agriculture.

First to mind are digital solutions.  Computing machines which twenty years ago cost millions of dollars and were the size of a house are now vastly more powerful yet small enough to fit inside of a shirt pocket.  

For the first time in history it is possible and economically viable to digitise farming operations and make a profit. Consequently, startup companies such as EnviroEye have developed products that automate manual tasks on farms and collect farm data through an array of sensors.  The data is then presented to the farmer to optimise management decisions. It’s running the farm on a dashboard.

Digital isn’t all about the sensors and apps, it also includes advanced robotics and artificial intelligence.

With regional labour shortages a worldwide issue, robotic fruit picking startups like the automated avocado picker from Universal Field Robotics in Brisbane are particularly in vogue.

Beyond digital, there are a plethora of agtech startup companies in different fields working to affect agriculture industry change. Sometimes agtech can simply be a innovative business model. Farmgate MSU for example, is creating a new category of “ethical meat” by bringing the slaughterhouse to the farm via a mobile unit.

However the most promising area of agtech could well be from the realm of biology.

CRISPR technology (short for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) essentially cuts and pastes segments of existing DNA. It presents an future of vastly increased yields and possibly even the eradication of pest and disease losses.

It is still early days for agtech and optimism is in abundance.  There is still a lot to prove. However other industries have made astonishing gains through use of technology and the theory is some of it could be used to the benefit of the agriculture industry.

Surely that can only be a good thing.

This is the first of a monthly agtech feature with SproutX.

The story Agtech the future of farming first appeared on Farm Online.

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