Forward: Innovation the key to productivity

By The Hon. Luke Hartsuyker MP

This is an exciting time for farming. Innovative use of new technologies, including digital technology and robotics, has the potential to transform our farm businesses and land management practices.

We all know that innovation is a key driver for productivity and profitability in agriculture—but what many people might not realise is that innovation in the agriculture sector also delivers significant environmental and sustainability benefits.

In fact, as Landcarers know, long-term productivity and profitability are inextricably linked with sustainable land management practices—and how we manage our soils, water and vegetation.


Luke Hartsuyker MP.

For example, precision agriculture has the potential to deliver significant benefits not only for agricultural productivity and profitability, but also supports sustainable farming practices. Precision farm management tools and systems can provide information at the field, paddock or block level to help optimise and minimise inputs such as water, fertilisers and pesticides. This can help ensure that inputs are used efficiently, and allows for targeted management of issues such as nitrogen pollution and soil fertility. Precision agriculture can further support sustainable land management by providing information that allows farmers to match land use and land capability. This means farmers can maximise profitability in the productive parts of their farms, while conserving biodiversity and the natural resource base in less productive areas.

Many Landcarers will already be familiar with the CSIRO’s exciting work in this space, including through a $1.5 million grant under the National Landcare Programme to develop an interactive system that will give farmers near real-time information about their farms. This will help farmers examine options for different crop varieties and soil inputs needed to make the most of the soil moisture available for their coming season.

This Government is committed to ensuring that our farmers and land managers can make the most of the opportunities presented by the digital age and new technologies. That is why, in partnership with industry, we invest heavily in rural research and development, to support the kind of innovation that keeps our soils, water and vegetation healthy, productive and sustainable.

For example, Horticulture Innovation Australia has helped develop an in-field robot dubbed the Ladybird, which provides intelligence on pests, crop nutrition and forecasts—meaning growers can minimise and better target their inputs for maximum efficiency. They are also partnering with the University of Sydney as part of the Horticulture Innovation Centre for Robotics and Intelligent Systems (HICRIS)—Australia’s first horticultural robotics learning and development hub.

In the dairy industry, Dairy Australia’s Fert$mart initiative is helping farmers harness information about soil condition and nutrient loads to use fertilisers more efficiently and judiciously, reducing nutrient runoff from their farms while maximising pasture growth. And as a result of RD&E by the Cotton Research and Development Corporation, Australia’s cotton industry has adopted innovative water use efficiency improvements including in-field moisture monitoring, field and irrigation system design, scheduling technology, soil health improvements and other irrigation techniques. Over the past 10 years, these innovations have allowed the industry to increase water use efficiency by 40 percent and transform to grow more than three times the world average yield per hectare.

Of course, the opportunities presented by new technologies and ‘big data’ are impossible to realise on the land without the digital infrastructure needed to unlock their full potential. The government is investing $29.5 billion towards delivering Australia’s first national broadband network to all Australians, including those on the land, and we are also improving mobile phone and wireless broadband coverage and competition in regional Australia through the Mobile Black Spot Programme.

We will continue to work with you to ensure that Australia’s farmers and others who care for our land can unlock the benefits of innovative new ideas and technologies, and realise the opportunities presented by this exciting digital age.

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