As farmers face the twin challenges of climate change and a growing global appetite for food, technological innovation is playing an increasingly important role in agriculture.
Globally, booming populations and rising prosperity will require food production to increase by 60 per cent by 2050. Australia’s agriculture sector is set to almost double over the next 15 years, becoming a $100 billion industry, according to National Farmers Federation predictions.
Climate change and its impact on food production is adding to concerns around food security and sharpening the agricultural industry’s focus on better managing our scarce natural resources. Global venture capital in agricultural technology (Agtech) is already worth $3 billion per year and this figure is growing rapidly.
My own Agtech journey began ahead of the rush.
In 1990, four years after graduating from Western, I created my first startup business. Using a manual device to measure soil moisture, and processing this with a HP programmable calculator, my business delivered data to irrigators to improve yield, quality and water savings. The data gave farmers a predictive date of when, and how much they’d next need to irrigate. I went on to co-found an Agtech business which developed a radio-connected soil moisture probe. The C-Probe played a significant role in helping to transform irrigation management for the cotton industry in the 90s, reducing water use whilst increasing yields.
In 2000 we launched AgWISE, one of Australia’s first cloud-based data services in irrigated agriculture.
I then spent six years in California, developing our North American market. In 2006, we introduced a new soil probe using the latest manufacturing technologies and I have spent the last six years leading the introduction of a data-driven solution to transform surface irrigation for cropping systems. Using a cloud-based platform to interpret real-time field conditions from smart sensors and connected devices, this solution is capable of doubling crop productivity from the same volume of water.
Innovation and entrepreneurship are at the core of everything I have done in my career since graduating, and Western was a key enabler for my journey.
The toolkit I received from Western has helped me transform irrigation management through a combination of science, technology, data and strategic management. Mine is just one story of a Western graduate adding to the sustainable production of food, fibre and beverage. As the pressure on food production mounts, there will certainly be many more.