The agriculture sector is an important contributor to state and national economies, and particularly significant to driving growth and sustainability in regional areas. The sector has a bright and promising future. Enablers of the possible opportunities rely on a collaborative approach to innovation inclusive of the education, government, industry and investor communities.
The agriculture sector’s ability to innovate relies on the knowledge, skills and adaptability of its workforce. Encouraging a more professional and capable sector will provide the capacity for it to be more responsive and forward-thinking to take advantages of the market opportunities available.
Digital skills and capabilities is an identified gap across the agriculture value chain, and the adoption of digital agriculture has huge potential to increase the competitiveness of industry. Tristan Perez, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Queensland University of Technology, believes in the potential of digital agriculture, “I believe digital agriculture will enable Australia to retain its competitiveness, break into new markets, and ensure we maintain our reputation for delivering great quality produce,” he said.
The productivity potential is acknowledged and highlighted in the industry digital agriculture project “Accelerating Precision Agriculture to Decision Agriculture (P2D)”. This project found that by realising the full potential of digital agriculture, Australian producers across all agricultural sectors would benefit from an estimated increase in production value of 25% (growth value of $20.3 billion), while also securing global competitiveness.
The P2D project’s report indicates the need to transform Australia’s farm business management and decision making through effective digital agriculture adoption. The collection of data from machines has increased rapidly in Australian agriculture. However, a lack of producer control, on-farm connectivity and under-utilisation of data has put Australia at a global disadvantage. The report’s key recommendations to address this issue include the provision of “education and capacity building to increase digital literacy in the agricultural sector”.
“The current work force can look forward to significant changes in the tools they use do their work as well as a change in what constitutes a day-to-day job,” Professor Perez said. Advances in agriculture including wearable devices, natural interfaces and smart machines are opening up new opportunities. The increasing uptake of sensors and technology has enabled the sector to collect data in many aspects of farm operations including temporal and spatial information about the status of soil, water, crops, water, animals and pasture. There is a great potential to integrate this information to improve decision-making within farm management.
Professor Perez believes, “there is enormous potential for using information extracted from purposefully collected data to improve the management of agricultural production systems, to optimise yield, quality and efficiency whilst ensuring sustainability, both on-farm and through the value chain”. In this way, farmer’s decisions including aspects of crop planning, season management, harvest and post-harvest and other business decisions can be greatly improved.
To make use of the available opportunities, farm managers need a combination of skills in decision making, data analysis, and marketing, while also being aware of the potential of technology. Professor Perez expects jobs throughout the supply change will see changes. “From jobs that require background education at a university level to those requiring trade levels, and even those who are trained on-site, all will see changes. Some jobs will be displaced requiring re-skilling, and new jobs will emerge with the potential to attract new people into the sector.” The workforce will increasingly need to be technologically literate and capable, familiar with e-commerce and social media, have advanced managerial skills, be familiar with modern production techniques and be able to deal with complex environmental issues.
To prepare the industry for a digital future, QFF has been tasked by Jobs Queensland to provide industry feedback on the training and skilling needs of our future workforce, by creating a 3-5 year projection. We are conducting interviews with producers and stakeholders in the agriculture industry and value your input – if you want to get involved, please click HERE to register your interest and someone will contact you shortly.