27 May

'Agribusiness leaders ‘on board for agtech’' by Jenne Brammer

Demand for agricultural technology will explode in coming years, and start-ups should work more closely with wealthy and intelligent farmers for ideas and funding, agribusiness leaders say.

Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development executive director Liam O’Connell told a panel discussion the agtech sector was set for massive growth because it could help farmers solve basic problems around reducing costs, inefficiency, improving profitability and reducing impact on the environment.

WA Farmers chief executive Trevor Whittington said the top end of WA farmers were extremely intelligent with highly valuable businesses, and they were prepared to spend big on adopting agtech to increase productivity.

Mr Whittington said many successful, wealthy Wheatbelt growers adopted agtech early.

“Many (of these farmers) have uni degrees and are sophisticated, smart guys who are looking for technology-based solutions,” he said. “They will invest a serious amount of money because they need to get that extra one per cent productivity gain each year.”

Mr Whittington said there was an untapped opportunity for agtech start-ups to work with these bigger, better farmers for ideas and funding.

BDO senior manager, technology advisory, Michael Macolino said there was a huge amount of capital within the agribusiness sector that could be deployed into these start-ups. “Agtech start-ups are looking at traditional funding routes, that is speaking to a venture capitalist to raise money,” he said.

“There is an opportunity to create some sort of investment vehicle for farmers to deploy surplus funds in a managed way, at scale into these agtech companies. This industry-backed approach would accelerate the development of some of these technologies.”

AgriStart managing director Natasha Ayres, who moderated the panel, said she found there was plenty of capital out there but many start-ups were not investor ready, so needed help with commercialisation.

David Lock, who chairs Australian Pork, Mareterram, and Odeum Produce, said one challenge with growth in adopting agtech in the supply chain was social licence.

“I don’t think consumers trust technology in ag that drives production down or productivity up,” Mr Lock said. “They look at it with scepticism. It is seen as another glyphosate-type thing, that will be good for the farmer but not necessarily good for the consumer.

“There is an opportunity to better explain technology to consumers in a way they do understand in a way that’s valuable to them, not just to the farmer.”

The event was hosted in Perth by the British Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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