WESTERN Australia’s agtech revolution was the conversation guest speaker Matthew Macfarlane had with guests attending The University of Western Australia’s (UWA) Industry Forum last week.
The m15e ventures founder, Agworld director and Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC) director has a lot of experience in the agtech scene.
“I am an angel investor,” Mr Macfarlane said.
“I invest my own money into companies and then I try to help those companies with my expertise and experience.”
Mr Macfarlane’s particular area of focus is in the software space, including agtech and start up companies.
He said the agtech space was a lot busier now that it was four years ago.
“We have drones, artificial intelligence, satellite imagery, seed technology, crop protection, innovative equipment, internet of things and big data,” he said.
Mr Macfarlane said agtech was facing challenges from data, such as personal data, being used by others.
He said farmers were sensitive about their data.
“This idea that data is going to be gathered and used for the common good all around, that’s highly dependent upon privacy laws and people being willing to participate and share their data with others,” Mr Macfarlane said.
There are a lot of dedicated accelerator programs helping start-up companies excel in their agtech vision.
The accelerator programs offer six weeks to six months of intense mentoring, coaching and advisory services.
An agtech program run through AgriStart offers the harvest program and the harvest 2.0 program.
The harvest accelerator program ran earlier this year and received 100 applications for eight places.
Due to large numbers, the harvest 2.0 program will be run again this September.
“In terms of events, there is an agtech Perth meet-up group which has more than 700 members,” Mr Macfarlane said.
“You would never have imagined this four or five years ago.”
Agtech Perth-Agricultural Technology and Innovation group meets once a month to talk about agricultural technologies and developments.
This group brings together developers, farmers and other stakeholders in the agriculture industry to collaboratively look at opportunities and solutions for technology so they can make agriculture more productive, profitable and sustainable.
Another exciting development was AgHack that was held last weekend.
The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development worked with the Ministry of Data to host the inaugural, weekend-long agricultural-technology hackathon.
The Ministry of Data hosts hackathons to solve technological problems faced by State government agencies.
AgHack was intended to address eight different challenges which have been put forward by the agricultural community.
The event combines agtech savvy industry participants with talented developers to solve real-world problems.
Participants grappled with one of eight challenges, including:
p Grading grain at the farmgate – how to better grade and sort grain on the farm before the point of delivery to maximise the return for farmers.
p Where did my lamb chop come from?
How to better track and provide feedback to lamb producers and processors to maximise price and customer satisfaction of meat.
p Monitoring the rangelands – how to better monitor the condition, health and usage of WA’s remote rangelands.
p Connected sheep – how to better link ewes and lambs on the farm to prevent them being stressed when separated and connect breeding and productivity data to make better breeding decisions.
p Identifying and predicting pests to protect WA – how to better detect pests through photographic evidence to improve WA’s biosecurity.
p Whose grain is that – how to better track grain from individual farm properties through the supply chain to improve food safety and protect access to markets.
p What to grow and when – how to better choose the best cropping mix to optimise long-term land sustainability with seasonal economic return.
p Making sense of agricultural data – how to collect and collate farming data from different sources in different formats to enable better decisions and precision agriculture.
This year’s first prize went to the Dex team, who worked on the pest detection challenge.
Second went to Grainies, who worked on the grading grains challenge and third to Carbon Eyes, who competed in the monitoring rangelands challenge.
The Young Team award went to Ag Dex, who worked on the connected sheep challenge.
Mr Macfarlane said everybody who involved in these events was excited about what they may be able to do in the future.