Modest use of sensor technology only half the problem

A NEW Rabobank survey has revealed despite the potential of digital agriculture to improve decision making on Australian farms, the use of sensor technology remains modest
Modest use of sensor technology only half the problem Modest use of sensor technology only half the problem Modest use of sensor technology only half the problem Modest use of sensor technology only half the problem Modest use of sensor technology only half the problem

Kristy Moroney

The recently-released report Does sensor adoption make cents? draws on insights from 1000 farmers across Australia. The report shows only a limited proportion of farmers are using the data from their own sensor technology to support farm decision making to increase business profitability.

Questioning farmers across a wide range of regions, production sectors and operation sizes, Rabobank found less than a quarter or 23 per cent were using sensor technology – such as drones, moisture probes and irrigation monitors, as well as yield mapping and electronic identification (EID).

Rabobank agricultural analyst and report author Wesley Lefroy said while he was not surprised by the relatively modest uptake of sensor technology on-farm, there were barriers holding back the farm sector from receiving the value promised by digital agriculture.

“For many farmers, the value proposition (or return on investment) for many sensor technologies simply isn’t articulated clearly enough for farmers to determine they can generate a profit from it,” Mr Lefroy said.

Lefroy said the uptake appeared to be higher amongst larger farm businesses, with the survey finding large farms (with incomes above $1million) having the highest uptake of sensors at 57%, compared with a 10% uptake in farming businesses with incomes below $300,000.

The adoption rate varied across commodity sectors however, with the highest rate of sensor adoption observed in the cotton industry (78%) followed by the grains sector (48%).

In contrast, adoption rates were very limited in beef (10%), sheep (12%) and dairy (20%) – with these sectors generally having a higher proportion of small-scale producers.

Lefroy said the survey not only found farmer uptake of this type of digital technology was limited, but less than 70% of those using the technology were applying the sensor-generated data to support decision-making.

“Take yield mapping, for example,” Lefroy said. “While most harvesters now have yield-mapping capabilities, it is often a difficult process for farmers to not only collect the data (given the volume of data) but to then process it and interpret the results, and put it into a usable form to support decision making,” Lefroy said.

“In order to close the gap so farmers fully understand how to use the data and generate profit from it, there are two main issues that need addressing,” he said.

“At the farmgate, there needs to be an increased emphasis on having adequate technological resources, and this goes beyond software and hardware management, as farmers also need to have the skills to analyse the data. But for farmers to make this investment, in both time and money, the value proposition of using this technology needs to improve.”

“Tech companies have a big role to play in this, to ensure farmers can easily use the data to assist with decision-making, so ‘after-sales service’ is critical.”

Lefroy said in the age where farmers are generating more and more data, the ownership of data and privacy issues were another concern, while many agricultural producers also lacked the technological infrastructure and connectivity required to fully utilise farm management technology offered by vendors.

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