Don’t leave our farmers behind
Australian agriculture is in the early stages of a dramatic disruption and a subsequent transition. There is rapid innovation across the entire value chain, investment in developing and scaling world-changing technologies and solutions, and we’re setting bullish targets on sustainability and environmental measures. But are we running the risk of leaving our farmers behind? Here farmer, Farmers2Founders project manager and evokeAG. 2023 Future Young Leader, Matt Anderson urges the Australian agtech industry to not leave our farmers behind.
Several years ago, I was playing rugby for a university team. It was 2015 and by some miracle we had made it to the grand final, and on the eve of that game, the team got together for some final messages. Expecting a rousing speech, we were surprised when our captain stepped into the middle of the group and shared a very simple message: “don’t get left behind”.
His expectation was clear – as a team we were going to play a very high quality and well executed game. Quite simply, that was the standard that he had set and any failure to meet that high expectation was the fault of the individual. So don’t be the one to be left behind.
While I later found out he had copied that speech entirely from a professional athlete, it was a powerful one, and we went on to win the game.
It was this very theme that I thought would resonate when I was originally planning my Future Young Leader presentation for evokeAG. 2023. I thought there was an opportunity to draw parallels between the state of Australian agriculture and the concept of the responsibility of the individual in keeping pace with change. As has been widely acknowledged, Australian agriculture is in the early stages of a dramatic disruption and a subsequent transition. There is rapid innovation across the entire value chain. We are building and investing in world-changing technologies and solutions. And we’re setting bullish targets on sustainability and environmental measures.
With all this change, it seems fitting to draw on this “don’t get left behind” battle cry. However, this perspective is exactly the trap that, as an industry, we fall into too often.
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While it is true to say that the wheels of change are in motion for our industry and that there are well-known challenges around the adoption of new technologies, we have a tendency to view this progress through a top-down approach.
All too often, our industry operates in a system where farmers are expected to adopt innovation, to get on board with the changes that are occurring, and to keep up with the bleeding edge.
And when this doesn’t occur, we seem to say it’s the fault of the individual, or in this case the fault of the farmer. Yet this approach doesn’t reflect the realities of how our agricultural system operates and evolves. In truth, change actually begins on-farm, where the innovation and hype become reality.
In recent times, I’ve returned to my farming community in Northwest NSW, and I now have a foot in both camps. I work closely with entrepreneurs who are building exciting new agricultural technologies, but also spend my days talking over the fence, yarning at the pub and playing sport with the other farmers in my area.
From where I stand, not enough is being done to bring farmers along with the changes across the industry.
We should be seeing more agtech startups spending the early days of their development learning from farmers and trying to understand the real problems they are facing. We should be involving more farmers and their advisors in the defining of research priorities or development of industry initiatives. We should be placing a greater focus on supporting or building farmers’ capability in using new technologies through the provision of advice or services or training.
So, my “pre-game speech” to our industry is really to say, don’t leave our farmers behind. Don’t fall into the trap of being swept up by the excitement of what’s coming and overlook the importance of ensuring our farmers are engaged and supported in that process.
We should stop seeing farmers at the bottom of a hierarchy or a sales funnel and rather, be prepared to listen to the needs and challenges of our farmers. Because if we allow our farmers to be left behind in the digital transformation of our industry, then we are all behind, where we could be and where we need to be.
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evokeAG. 2023 Future Young Leader Matt Anderson addressed delegates at evokeAG. 2023 in Adelaide. Catch up on what Matthew’s peers and other change makers had to say at evokeAG. 2023 at evokeag.com.