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No AgTech without Connectivity

Technology & Data

Dr Hugo Britt explores a KPMG report and its implications for AgTech in Part one of a two-part series. Read part 2 here.

The agricultural world is abuzz with talk of Agri 4.0: the opportunity to supercharge agricultural productivity through digitisation with the potential to grow Australian agriculture into a $100 billion industry by 2030.

But digital enablement across the sector – and on remote farms in particular – is being hampered by a lack a connectivity. Without this enabler, growers cannot hope to unlock the benefits flowing from real-time data such as higher yields, reduced waste, informed decision-making and planning, predictive analytics, improved biosecurity and traceability.

KPMG’s hot-off-the-press Agri 4.0: Connectivity at our fingertips report examines the connectivity challenges in the Australian agriculture sector and advises on some readily-available technological solutions, while providing some much-needed case studies on the issue.

Part one of APAL’s two-part series on KPMG’s report will look at some of the barriers to connectivity and considerations to take into account, while part two will dive into the different technology solutions available.

Too isolated to connect?

KPMG’S report notes that Australia “faces an array of geographical challenges not faced by other leading food producing nations [such as the Netherlands] and ubiquitous connectivity across rural enterprises is more difficult to achieve.” The authors point out that while the Netherlands is obviously much smaller (186-times smaller), it also benefits from a largely flat topography which is ideal for uninterrupted Long Range Wide Area Network (LoRaWAN) coverage. Australians cannot expect to have LoRaWAN, 4G or 5G coverage across every agricultural property on the continent.

Yet technology providers have risen to the challenge: “New and exciting communication protocols and market players have emerged to provide connectivity solutions. These providers and technologies can service the connectivity needs of nearly any farmer today.”

A key piece of advice to take from this report is to look before you leap: ensure you know your business before investing in connectivity and AgTech solutions. Rather than focusing on the technology first, gain “a strong understanding of your [] business, your current and foreseeable key requirements, and the [technology] use cases which will be serviced by the chosen network. Understanding these elements will assist you in selecting a network which suits your context.”

The report reveals that the main barrier to connectivity is not the technology available – it’s about selecting a tech solution that is fit-for-purpose and discerning the best method of connectivity for each individual agribusiness.

Planning to connect

Considerations to take into account when picking an on-farm connectivity network include:

  • Environment: What is the topography of the land? What distance does your network need to cover to connect to devices on your property? Will the network be able to cope with intensive orcharding?
  • Digital literacy: Do you and your staff have the know-how to use the technology effectively?
  • Costs: What is your appetite for upfront and ongoing cost? What will be the cost per sensor for connectivity? If you have only a handful of sensors to connect, investing in blanket connectivity may not be cost effective.
  • Bandwidth requirements: Will you need to transmit small packets of data (such as a sensor sending moisture levels) or use large amounts of data through voice calls, image or video?
  • Compatibility: If you own or plan to invest in a specific AgTech device, is it supported by your chosen network type/frequency?

Part two of this exploration of KPMG’s report explores the advantages and limitations of some of the connectivity solutions available, ranging from licensed and unlicensed LPWAN, to nanosatellites, and on-farm WIFI.

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