New technologies for agriculture

In the next couple of weeks my Rezare Systems colleagues and I will be attending the MobileTECH conference in both the Gold Coast, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand. The programme is full of exciting presentations on robotics, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones), and remote sensing. It’s great to see a number of our primary sector partners and customers presenting at these conferences.

Only a month or so ago I attended the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The focus of that meeting was Climate-Smart Agriculture (something I’ll talk more about in a later post), again there was a wealth of technologies from mobile phone applications for use in Africa to remote sensing, climate forecasting, and amazing technologies for remediating waste and improving water use efficiency.

Sometimes I’m surprised at the pace of change with technology.

I don’t just mean that I’m surprised by the speed with which technology evolves. Certainly the “consumerisation of technology” delivering low-cost, incredibly powerful miniature computer systems and the rise of low-cost sensing technologies has brought a whole range of potential applications.

I also mean that I’m reminded (and sometimes surprised) at how long it takes for promising technologies to actually make it to market, and then to start making a difference in farming and food production. Remote sensing technologies being showcased now are very similar to technologies my colleagues in the research institutes worked on 10 or 15 years ago. Animal management technologies being trialled at the moment were also demonstrated on a small scale 10 or more years ago; and some of the work we are currently doing in animal genetics and machine learning I recall from discussions with a Massey University colleague 20 years ago.

Why does it take so long to bring these promising technologies to market?

One viewpoint I’ve heard is that for many years agriculture was seen as a “sunset industry”, with investors and venture capitalists focusing their time and money elsewhere. As a result people with ideas were capital poor and products languished for lack of investment. It’s only with the recent realisation of the importance of our food supply that this area has garnered interest.

Others would claim a “disconnect” between researchers and their commercial counterparts. I can think of projects where promising research was consigned to the shelves for several years before being “dusted off” and applied commercially. Could better communication and interaction have shortened this cycle?

Primary producers and their supply chain partners also take time to visualise the benefits of new technology and approaches, to trial them, and for the technology to gain acceptance. Its easy for technologists to get caught up in the cool technology and fail to show clearly how it will deliver benefit in monetary or lifestyle terms. Our early technologies are often too hard to use and farmers rightly add a “risk factor” when they assess whether they will be able to gain the espoused benefits.

One of our goals at Rezare Systems is to assist with that commercialisation process. We work with organisations who are delivering to primary producers and the supply chain to understand what needs to be addressed, then actively seek evolving science and IT we can leverage. I’m a strong believer in collaboration and partnerships as a way of nurturing ideas in a commercially grounded environment.

Come and see us at MobileTECH if you get a chance. It’s not (quite) too late to register. We’d welcome a discussion about your ideas.