Australia needs to recognise AgTech potential

Andrew Lai

Australia is in the midst of a technology boom, led, primarily by innovative small businesses that are transforming the digital economy. Driven by the need for efficiency, the agtech industry, in particular, is set to be worth $100 billion by 2030. With the potential for growth so immense, it’s surprising that agtech is often overlooked in the wide-scheme of Australia’s technology sector.

With the focus of Australian technology innovation generally on FinTech, the transformative effect of the agtech sector on traditional industry often goes unrecognised. In Australia, agtech is often met with skepticism and, at times, outright hostility. Beyond the startup industry, it’s a skepticism that is filtered through senior tiers of academia, corporate, and government.

For many, there is a sentiment that agtech is simply an industry based on hype, without substance. It’s viewed as yet another Gen-y fad that is doomed to expire shortly. However, as it is a key player in the global food system and with some of the best farmers in the world, we need to change this notion in order to ensure that the Australian industry receives the support and investment needed to drive technology innovation.

Historically, agricultural technology has played a huge role in the development of some of our country’s most vital industries. Without it, our $2.7 billion cotton industry may not exist and Australia would not be one of the four leading exporters of cotton.

The cotton industry was threatened by plant disease and the challenging Australian growing conditions, which made it necessary to create specialised strains of the cotton plant. The strain was then developed, bred and then deployed en masse, giving birth to the cotton industry as we know it. The creation of the specialised plant was made possible only using agtech research, and working in conjunction with the CSIRO means that Australia now not only provides the highest yield in the world but our cotton is also considered to be of the best quality. It’s an industry that works hand-in-hand with those on the land, to optimise and transform struggling businesses.

Alongside Australian agtech companies like Sundrop and Observant who have all achieved tremendous global traction, AgDNA is a more recent example of a world-class Australian agtech company, innovating and effecting change in the agricultural industry. Now operating in 180 countries and across one million acres of land, their software integrates seamlessly with machinery such as tractors to provide farmers with a yield and profit analysis that can be narrowed down to a single square meter area.

While the ‘agtech’ handle may be new, Australia has been benefitting from agricultural technologies for many years. The difference is that now the technologies are even more advanced and the potential for transformation of an industry, even greater.

The term ‘agtech’ now has a tremendous power and places the sector within the international startup movement. If we can shift the idea that Australian agtech is something to fear or something that will fade with time, we can increase the potential of the sector on both a local level and on the trillion dollar global stage.