Cross-industry innovations for agriculture
Inspirations from outside the box
Agriculture has a proven track record of developing and adopting new innovations to improve on-farm productivity and efficiency, enhance product quality, and open up new markets. Facing disruptive changes, the industry needs to look within and also beyond itself to identify innovations that can maintain (and even extend) its competitive position.
The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) engaged Deloitte Access Economics, through RIRDC’s National Rural Issues Program, to identify transformative innovations with potential for adoption by Australian agribusinesses. Deloitte cast the net widely.
From a long list of approximately 100 innovations across the economy, six cross-industry innovations were shortlisted based on their potential for application to Australian agribusiness. In this Bulletin, we discuss those shortlisted innovations, touching on their description, origin, catalysts, barriers and opportunities for agriculture. For more details on these innovations and the study behind their selection, please refer to the RIRDC website.
Crowdfunding is an alternative form of finance that enables the funding of projects or ventures by raising contributions from the general public via internet registries. Modern day crowdfunding started with Artistshare in 2001 as a platform for musicians to raise fund to produce digital recordings. Crowdfunding has been since applied in other sectors including creative arts, social causes, small businesses and start-up technology.
Investment in Australian agribusiness is needed to exploit opportunities. Yet access to finance is often cited as a barrier to the required investment. Crowdfunding offers a solution.
Catalysts: financing the gap between what can be raised through traditional means and the potential investment opportunities.
Barriers: perceptions by investors on project size, lack of digital skills, red tape, and difficulty in pitching concepts using online platforms.
Opportunities: improved access to finance, closer relationships with consumers, leading indicators on consumer demand and access to niche and emerging markets.
Big data analytics can reveal insight and strategy from examining large, dynamic data sets to uncover patterns, correlations and trends. From early applications in financial services, healthcare and retail sectors it has grown to a US$125 billion global market in 2015.
Catalysts: increasing ease of collecting data, productivity and efficiency gains in a competitive landscape, and automation.
Barriers: high investment and infrastructure costs, knowledge gaps, collating a variety of public and private sources of data, and connectivity to the internet.
Opportunities: improved efficiency of input use, increased yields, optimised pricing, purchasing, sales channels, and capital allocation decisions.
Robots and automation
Robots are machines that can perform repetitive and labour-intensive operations. Modern robotics began with the development of Unimate, a robotic arm that could be programmed to perform numerous tasks in 1954. The key sectors that have readily adopted this innovation include manufacturing, defence, transport and logistics.
Catalysts: high labour costs, enhanced computing power, lower cost of sensors, and productivity gains from more precise production processes.
Barriers: high initial investment costs, complexity of agriculture’s working environment including exposure to weather conditions, and connectivity to the internet.
Opportunities: reduced reliance on labour with potential broader efficiency benefits, improved resource utilisation (e.g. in precision agriculture) and as a source of additional information for improved decision making.
Nutritional genomics seeks to use genetic information and diet to inform targeted health outcomes. To date, the innovation has been developed and applied in the health sector.
Catalysts: demand for personalised diets, decreased cost of genomic analysis.
Barriers: knowledge gaps (in linking genetics and diet to health outcomes) and commercial lag time (to commercial product release).
Opportunities: service consumer preferences for food with particular nutritional characteristics, new livestock breeds and crop varieties, personalised animal or plant feed and nutritional intake. Interestingly, while nutritional genomics in human health is often applied to optimise diet for weight control, in livestock it has most potential to do the opposite, i.e. improving weight gain.
Microgrids are small-scale, locally controlled electricity generation and distribution networks. They can be operated in a controlled, coordinated way independently or in parallel with the main power network. Early adopters of this innovation include mining sites, universities, defence facilities, and residential and commercial precincts.
Catalysts: demand for secure, reliable and better quality energy supply in remote and rural areas.
Barriers: inconsistent or insufficient legal and regulatory definition to adopt microgrids at a greater scale, lack of standardised approach to measure lifecycle costs (and therefore benefits), low level of standardisation in safety standards and codes, high costs of integrating with existing technology and mainstream power sources.
Opportunities: cost effectiveness and ease of integration of renewable generation sources compared to traditional energy networks, increased supply flexibility and scalability, and increased energy efficiency.
GPS trackers use the Global Positioning System to track the precise location of the device (and the person, animal or object it is attached to). Trackers are already widely used by sectors such as transport, logistics, ecological research and high-performance sports.
Catalysts: decreasing cost, smarter GPS technology, part of an emerging trend towards greater locational awareness.
Barriers: cost of technology, complexity of integrating with other technologies (e.g. yield monitoring), and connectivity with other devices and/or the internet.
Opportunities: more precise use of agricultural inputs, greater visibility of the utilisation, efficiency and location of plant & equipment, proactive maintenance of plant & equipment, proactive decision making for farming activities, and improved traceability of farm produce.
What do we learn from these innovations?
Agriculture can find innovative inspirations from a variety of sectors, not only traditional ‘high-tech’ sectors such as manufacturing and mining, but also creative arts, finance and health care.
Innovations are driven by various factors, with efficiency, competition and the advancement of digital technologies being the key enablers.
The true value of these innovations is often unlocked when they are combined. For example, GPS enabled robotics informed by Big Data can perform targeted on-farm weeding, irrigating or fertilising.
The world is transitioning to a knowledge economy. Change is coming, and disruption to traditional ways of producing food and fibre is inevitable. Agribusinesses that do not innovate and adapt to the times will eventually fall behind.