Agworld a finalist in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2021 Australia awards

By Mal Gill
March 13 2022 - 2:00am
Agworld a finalist in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2021 Australia awards

AGWORLD's organic growth in the digital farming data management and co-ordination space has matched that of its customers' cereals, oil seed, legume, vine, fruit and vegetable crops in their best seasons.

Over the past 12 years Agworld has grown from a digital technology start-up in a suburban Perth garage to a West Leederville-based major global player with 90 per cent of the Australian agronomy market and growing markets in Canada, the United States of America, New Zealand and South Africa.

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Its first digital product created by its three founders - a process manager with a chemical company background and limited cereal cropping experience, a person with some cotton farming knowledge and a computer nerd - was a simple crop spraying record for farmers.

Now it produces a comprehensive suite of farm management software that covers the entire enterprise, from pre-season scheduling through to analytics, accounting and compliance and with ability to co-ordinate data from a number of sources, like the farm's machinery and input suppliers, with whoever the farmer is prepared to share it with.

It is working on new software products that will allow farmers to factor into their operation their impacts on the environment - including climate - and the impacts of a changing environment on their business.

'Natural capital' is the term for that.

Last August Agworld was acquired by Canadian agtech firm Semios for well more than $100 million, becoming an integral part of a billion dollar global ag digital solutions company.

Agworld now employs 71 people, has a dedicated team in the US and its software products are being used to manage more than 200 different crops grown on more than 52.5 million hectares around the world.

Both the driving force and guiding hand behind Agworld's growth, the only co-founder still directly involved with the company and its chief of staff from day one in 2009, Doug Fitch is a finalist in this year's EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2021 Australia awards.

He is the only Western Australian among seven finalists from across Australia from which a judging panel headed by Lucy Turnball will select the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2021 Australia winner, to be announced in April.

Honoured to be a finalist, Mr Fitch said this week Agworld could not have got off the ground without the support of local farmers who could see the potential for data collection to drive more informed decision making in agriculture.

"What I love about Australian farmers is they are world-class in adopting innovation and they are happy to engage with and support innovators," Mr Fitch said.

Raised in Perth, he said he was originally an apprentice mechanic when a change of interest, perhaps influenced to a degree by a girl from Bruce Rock, led to a wool classing course.

In turn, that led to a job with AgrEvo, a crop protection chemicals company created by German chemical company Hoechst Schering, which further redirected Mr Fitch towards agronomy and university for a batchelor's degree in business administration.

He joined Bayer CropScience when it absorbed AgrEvo and was its commercial manager for 13 years.

Illness in his wife Janet's family - the Butlers at Bruce Rock - saw them return to WA to run her family's farm for the 2007-08 cropping season, which gave Mr Fitch first-hand insight into the opportunities for digital data collection and management, sowing the seeds of an idea for the launch of Agworld the following year.

"I was a process person - successful and efficient farming is very much about the process, about the centralising of and access to information from a range of sources so the farmer can be more confident in the decisions they make," Mr Fitch said.

"But apart from knowing how to use a computer, I had no technical expertise in developing software at all, I had to learn as we went along, just like anyone else," he said.

"With hindsight, that was probably to our benefit in the long run because we saw the opportunities and potential from a farmer's perspective, so we remained relevant to what they were doing and their understanding of how technology would help them.

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"I like to think that we were and still remain inside the farmgate."

Mr Fitch said there were growing pains along the way as Agworld developed its products and markets - the co-founders had to raise $20 million at one point, which was extremely difficult within Australia, but they achieved it.

He said perhaps one of Agworld's generally unrecognised contributions to agriculture was its encouragement of collaboration and information integration between major participants who each collect some form of data and which once was considered their's alone.

"One of our important roles in developing our products has been to lobby the multinationals to make the data they collect more accessible," Mr Fitch said.

"The world is more collaborative with shared data now than it has been in the past."

John Deere was an example of a major company which collected data from the telemetry on its machines and was "very, very open now" with that data so it can be integrated with data collected from other sources to give a much more accurate digital picture of what was happening on the farm, he said.

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- The finalist chosen as EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2021 Australia will go on to represent Australia at the prestigious World EY Entrepreneur Of The Year award in June.

Launched in 2001, the Australian Entrepreneur Of The Year awards program, is conducted in five regions culminating in the national awards.

Primary objective is to identify, acknowledge and celebrate the outstanding contribution entrepreneurs make to the Australian business community and economy.

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