Technology troubles shared at WIFE day

31 Oct, 2015 01:00 AM
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South East Premium Wheat Growers Association (SEPWA) project officer Nigel Metz (left), Department of Commerce digital economy manager Penny Griffin and Telstra Country Wide area general manager Boyd Brown broached the topic of technology and telecommunications and data access in farming.
South East Premium Wheat Growers Association (SEPWA) project officer Nigel Metz (left), Department of Commerce digital economy manager Penny Griffin and Telstra Country Wide area general manager Boyd Brown broached the topic of technology and telecommunications and data access in farming.

TECHNOLOGY has changed the face of farming, but access or lack of understanding is causing issues for many.

The Women In Farming Enterprises (WIFE) group focused part of its annual seminar held last week at Varley on communications and technology from a farm office point of view.

The session was the most interactive of the day, with attendees seeking better services but also guidance on technology that could be useful on the farm.

Speakers Penny Griffin, Department of Commerce, Boyd Brown, Telstra Country Wide and Nigel Metz, South East Premium Wheat Growers Association, helped connect the dots for the 70 people in attendance.

Ms Griffin, who heads up the Royalties for Regions (RfR) Regional Mobile Communications Project (RMCP), outlined the efforts to close the digital divide and how the department has determined the sites of new telecommunications towers.

"I would argue that mobile has far greater utility in regional areas than the city because the size and scale of workplaces is very different to those of the city," she said.

Ms Griffin identified a "market failure" in rural areas due to the lack of competition and WA being a tough market for providers.

Since 2010 the Department of Commerce has worked with RfR funding and within the RMCP to provide new access to the mobile network in WA.

Ms Griffin said much of the decision making behind the network was based on community feedback and lobbying and discussions with industry groups.

She said there was a focus within the Department to give the best coverage possible and recognition that growers needed better services.

Mr Brown said Telstra was working to provide those in isolated areas with products to help boost their power.

Among these products were antennas and boosters designed to enhance existing signal or increase access to data and coverage either in the home or within a small area on the farm.

Despite efforts to increase coverage and make the most of the coverage available, Mr Metz said he expected the issue of access to technology in rural areas to only get worse as the industry grasped how much time and money technology could save them.

"Technology is here however you probably need to think a little bit more about where our businesses are making money," he said.

"Our grain export markets are developing nations but we're a high labour cost economy so we're relying on technology to drive our businesses.

"How does it translate to money in the paddock.

"We can see the pressure mounting as the more technology introduced the more reliant you are on the data connection."

Unfortunately, the potential for growers to remote learn, to crowd source and network via technology could not be ignored even despite poor services, Mr Metz said.

He encouraged attendees to learn, invest time and work with what little mobile and data access they did have as farming businesses needed to strive to be more efficient with technology.

WIFE chair Anna-Lisa Newman said telecommunications and data was an issue across the Wheatbelt that all members would identify with.

"Everything we need to know, every answer to every question is now on the mobile phone in your hand, it's as simple as that so why don't we use it for every question," she said.

"Because we're social creatures and connecting with someone we know on an issue or shared experience holds much more power than simply just reading about it.

"Through combining a social network and information as we do at WIFE we're fast tracking that learning process and also creating a great environment to do it in."

Mr Metz did caution the crowd however, to make sure technology did not overshadow the goal of the farm.

"In the paddock it's about getting the job done," he said.

"Particularly out here, weed control and timeliness of sowing is your bread and butter.

"Be careful that no fancy toy is going to replace that."

He said it was important to turn a piece of technology into a tool with a particular function in mind and avoid costing yourself time and money by playing with something that was not relevant.

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