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From social platform to Platfarm: Oli Madgett brings tech to the vineyard and beyond

Oli Madgett wears many hats – grape grower, tech founder, advisor, mentor, and father. His adaptable nature and in-depth understanding of the agrifood industry has made him a go-to figure in Australian agritech.

Photography by Solomon Scopazzi

The former Facebook game developer’s journey with agritech began when he moved from the UK with his wife, Tara, from a small London house to a 6.5-hectare vineyard in South Australia’s picturesque McLaren Vale region, in 2015.

Oli and Tara, while experienced in tech development, quickly realised they needed to deepen their understanding of farming challenges. So, they learnt by getting their hands dirty on ‘Madgett’s Block’.

“You don’t understand what is happening within agriculture, unless you fully immerse yourself.”

Adopting a vineyard

Understanding the variability of the land, was key for Oli and Tara’s on-farm decision making and ongoing development of Madgett’s Block. However, they found it challenging to convert the information available, such as high-res satellite imagery, into practical terms.

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Streamlining communication was one area Oli sought to improve in the vineyard.

Contractors were working on a range of different jobs in the vineyard, from ripping rows to promote growth to mulching to regulate the temperatures – and Oli wasn’t always on-farm. To help identify those tasks Oli used different coloured flags on specific rows in the vineyard. It was apparent there was a disconnect, he explained, and more effective methods were needed.

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This is where Oli’s “old life” in London specialising in tech development became useful in McLaren Vale – combining his knowledge of apps with his passion for agritech and innovative farming.

This led to Oli’s first product, Platfarm.

Platfarm is a mobile activity tracker for farming, making it simple and cost effective for growers to manage their land with precision. Oli and Platfarm Co-founder, Lyndsey Jackson, work together to make the possible, practical via a farmer’s phone. The initial build of the app only took six weeks to develop by Oli and Co-Founder, Andrew McDonnell.

The beginning stages of the app were developed in about five to six weeks. The technology was picked up by their agronomist, DJ’s Growers, shared with neighbours, and eventually Oli and Lyndsey applied to be a part of the SproutX accelerator program in 2018.

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This was the moment Platfarm’s application evolved from their own farm, to thinking about how this could be scaled across the wine industry and further afield. The support of the SproutX program was pivotal in preparing Platfarm for this next stage of growth.

So, what is Oli’s advice for other startups, seeking to expand their reach?

“Don’t feel like you need to know every single thing. If you knew everything in the outset, you often wouldn’t take the leap. Sometimes a little bit of naivety is a good thing.”

Benefits of collaboration in agritech

The McLaren Vale grape growing community has a strong focus on collaboration and sustainability, and Madgett’s Block is closely aligned to this ethos.

RELATED: $2 million budget for pre-farm gate waste investment

“I see a lot of collaboration within the agritech community, as the industry understands what works for one industry, may work for another and how can we implement that.”

New technology is often tested on Madgett’s Block, which involves working with startups and agritech businesses to understand what they can do better. “We are always making mistakes, but technology is helping us get better at this,” said Oli.

RELATED: Global collaboration needed to drive Australian agrifood innovation 

Startups and businesses collaborating with Madgett’s Block:

  • Sentek to use and test their soil moisture sensors down to 1.5 meters
  • TalGil to use their Dream2 app, Oli is able to use his phone to turn on and off irrigation
  • CSIRO to test and undertake scanning of their rows
  • DataFarming & Specterra to get imagery from the vineyard to understand conditions
  • BitWise Agronomy to undertake trials with computer vision down the vine rows
  • Grazing Naturally provided training to local growers for cell grazing sheep trials

“One of the benefits of testing products and other startup’s tech on our property is supporting others in the agritech and startup community who have potential to create real value for the entire industry and through that, continue to build the community.”

The Australian agritech community is maturing quickly

“It is amazing to see the development of the ecosystem in the five years I have been in Australia. There has been a lot of great momentum for some great businesses, like AgriWebb. They are getting critical mass through word of mouth and virality.”

RELATED: AgriWebb’s investor journey to the UK 

Oli admits there is the challenge in Australia, “that we need to win as Australia, and not state by state”.

“What you see New Zealand doing really well is that they work as one united front in the agritech industry.”

So how can Australia’s agritech industry work more cohesively on a national scale?

“The fact that we have the Australian Agritech Association for agritech startups to have a voice as its own industry and not get buried under each industry is an important step.”

South Australia’s activity is helping to create much-needed buzz around the innovation and agritech sphere, coming off the back of Southstart, Australia’s leading impact and innovation festival.

RELATED: Vow’s path to success and the rise of cultured proteins 

Other events, which Oli is involved with, like AdvanceAg held in July and regular AgTech Meetups, are helping to foster collaboration across agritech.

AgTech Meetups were developed from the idea that, through collaboration, the agritech industry will be enabled to dig deep into different topics to understand where one area may benefit another.

Supporting Australia’s agritech community

AgriFutures Australia has played an important part of Oli’s journey in agritech and grape growing. He has been involved in the AgriFutures Ignite Panel, attended and contributed to both evokeAG. events, consulted on the development of growAG. and is a valuable contributor for the platform.

Oli Madgett speaking at the Future Young Leaders Evening, evokeAG. 2020.

“The evokeAG. event is quite aspirational. The ability to bring more than 1,000 diverse people together each year to discuss the future of agriculture is unbelievable.  The benefits of evokeAG. is the focus on the future of agriculture, the talent that is on stage and the feeling of being inspired.”

RELATED: evokeAG. 2020 day 1 wrap up

Oli believes the growAG. platform will help to break down the silos, often experienced across each of the agricultural industries.

“There is a lot of talk about the challenges of commercialising research and the discussion can be quite circular and go on for years, but growAG. really takes it further from discussion and puts wheels in motion.”

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