How do you convince farmers that the latest buzzword “innovation” isn’t a bad thing?
While Dominoes can deliver pizza by drone, the challenge has become to convince people new technologies don’t always mean job losses, an agricultural forum has heard.
Assistant Minister for Digital Transformation Angus Taylor told the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences outlook conference that farmers are by their nature already pretty quick to innovate.
“You put a group of farmers together at a BBQ and it won’t take them very long to be talking about a new crop that someone’s trying,” he told the gathering in Canberra.
“Australian farmers have always been quick. They understand innovation. They typically like it, they’re sceptical of new fads and so they should be until they’re proven.”
Mr Taylor says the pushback on innovation generally came from the major cities instead.
And who is, ironically, most resistant?
“One of the least innovative organisations in every country in the world is the government,” he conceded, noting the prime minister’s passion for changing that.
Australia Farm Institute’s Richard Heath, who revealed he went to college with Mr Taylor, says he was never interested in becoming a farmer.
“I had long hair, I was all about being a rockstar,” he said, of their school days.
But when life took a different path and he went back to the farm he had a lot of catching up to do.
He used data and information gained from technology as a way to affirm his decisions, which he felt he didn’t have instinctively.
“I still think we suffer a little bit in agriculture from the focus being on the hardware as such, the fad, the drone, rather than the potential information coming from those technologies,” he said.
He admitted digital technologies in agriculture would lead to a changed workforce, but he wasn’t so sure about job losses.
“It’s actually attracting a whole lot of people to agriculture that haven’t been interested in agriculture before,” he said.
The CSIRO’s David Henry said most people now had phones and tablets, marvelled at modern medicine, flew on modern aircraft and a man even got a Bunnings sausage sandwich from his outdoor spa.
He insisted people shouldn’t just jump to thinking technology is about replacing humans or merely making robotics.
“I like to think of some of those innovations as underpinning decisions – making them easier, more timely.”
While many companies are working on robotic dairies, you couldn’t just plonk one in without farmer oversight, he said.