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Creating value from big data


BIRCHIP Cropping Group chairwoman Caroline Welsh believes big data can create value for the entire agricultural supply chain, but farmers will need to see value if they are going to collect the information necessary to make large scale schemes work.

Ms Welsh was speaking after the state government awarded the group $60,000 to help fund a technology in agriculture project.

“There are big gains to be made through the better use of data collected on-farm and not just through greater production efficiencies, which is where the use of digital technology has generally focused up until now,” she said.

“Things like traceability and the social licence to farm are going to be key selling points as consumers become increasingly aware of their food and how it has been produced.

“It is going to be a big advantage to be able to demonstrate exactly where your product comes from, but all this needs to begin at the farmgate level, which is what we will look at with this project.”

Ms Welsh said the project would investigate the possibility of shared big data, which could be used by the entire industry.

“Such information would be invaluable for a range of organisations, from crop forecasters such as ABARES through to the multi-peril crop insurance sector, but it will succeed or fail on the back of farmers providing the information,” she said.

“There has to be a clear incentive for them to provide the data they have collected and we have to be able to show these incentives to get things moving.”

Ms Welsh said another part of the project would be to look at the constraints and barriers to the uptake of greater use of technology in farming.

“There is a lack of adequate information technology infrastructure, such as a lack of mobile phone service or poor internet,” she said.

“In other cases the farmers are enabled to collect the data but just are not sure how they will make it pay – they see something on the horizon long-term but are not sure how to get started.”

Ms Welsh said there were examples of how other industries had evolved.

“We have had workshops on big data and we heard how 20 years ago, Australian wine was primarily exported in 200-litre barrels, whereas now we export high value bottled product,” she said.

Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford said the program would help growers to value-add their business and better insure themselves against climate variability.

“Farmers know that there’s been a big drop in rain and that the next dry spell might not be far away and that’s why we’re working with BCG to help more farmers use new technology,” she said.

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