The APAL Industry Forum that took place in Melbourne on June 24 hosted a number of speakers that canvassed the future of agricultural technology with a mixture of optimism and hard truths. Stefan Hajkowicz opened the day speaking about the changing tide as a literal ocean rip that can be fought in a futile struggle or used by the knowledgeable to get out to the big waves. But the rest of the morning focused more on the business side of things, in particular the surge of investment in data.
Falling costs of tech mean businesses can afford to invest into the agriculture technology sector more than ever. But it’s not as simple as putting in money and expecting problems to go away, and it’s not enough to put a stamp of greenness on new tech; the noise has forced companies to provide something real.
Jesse Reader, Agriculture Sector Specialist at Robert Bosch Australia, explained that in the last two years the Ag-tech landscape has become much busier. But not necessarily more productive.
“AgTech platforms are dying across the world because they don’t have a clear business model and problem to solve,” said Jesse.
But Big Business is not deterred. One notable example is Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, recently investing $200 million in vertical farming. Investment is coming for several sectors including orchards and other perennial tree crops.
But how can growers get a piece of the (apple) pie?
The first step is to prepare your business for data collection and traceability. Price and connectivity have become less of a barrier, so agri-businesses will be increasingly expected to know what’s going on in their orchards and packhouses. When fruit recalls happen, traceability down the supply chain will be imperative.
“We’ve dodged bullets here in Australia so far,” said Jesse. “But there will be more recalls, and greater need for supply chain traceability.”
“We need to snap out of the ’why should I’ attitude; these things are often opportunities.”
Ben van Delden, following up KPMG’s recent report on connectivity with a presentation at the Industry Forum, agreed that to get the benefits of data, orchard businesses must accept that the tech companies investing in them must get something from the arrangement.
“Investment only happens when there is return, so market access for business is part of the deal,” he said.
“But the benefits for data collectors means moving with the consumer so both can win.”
The scale of investment and integration is really up to the grower; there is no one-size-fits-all approach. But apple and pear growers are in a prime position to take advantage of the data boom given that orchards are, from a data point of view, ‘stretches of graph paper’.
But data, like anything, is a tool, and growers will still have the last word.
“The human element won’t go out of style,” said Ben.
View video interviews with Jesse and Ben captured at the APAL Industry Forum: