With the accelerating use of the Internet of Things in the agriculture technology (agtech) industry, the ability of the regional communities to contribute to this innovation is being overlooked, according to a prominent regional industry executive.

“There’s a big piece missing as we’re developing agriculture and the ecosystem, and that is the regions and the farmers themselves,” said Dianna Somerville, director of the Regional Grants, Tenders and Corporate Services (RGTC) Group. 

“[The agtech] ecosystem must really engage the farmer and regional areas, to ensure [new developments] are not only relevant, but that we do build a whole community out there in our regions that understand where this is heading, understand how this is going to impact their business, and understand the opportunities that are in front of them,” Somerville told the recent Everything IoT Agriculture Tech Forum in Sydney.

She said that tradition is a major influencing factor in agriculture, and the key to increase the adoption of IoT technologies by farmers and regional communities is involvement.

“We need to ensure that these farmers and communities understand the impact of technology, and have an opportunity to contribute,” she said. “Unless they are a part of it, we’re going to leave them behind.

“We need to bring them with us so we can build an agtech ecosystem in Australia that is strong, from the grassroots all the way through.”

Not just the farmer’s wife

Somerville singled out farmers’ spouses and partners as particularly valuable resources that can assist in agricultural IoT innovation.

“Within our farmers’ wives and partners is an untapped resource and an untapped demographic of people that view farming very differently,” she said.

“Often, this group of people are well educated, they’re well-travelled, and they come back to the land with a whole different outlook of the world, and they bring that to farming.

“They’re not as bound to tradition as their partners may be, so therefore they can look at problems in a really different way.”

The need to educate our regional youth

Somerville emphasised the need to educate the next generation of farmers about the benefits of technology from an early age.

“How many of our next generation farmers look at their dads and say, ‘Dad’s driving a tractor, so that’s what I’m going to do when I grow up’?” she asked. “Why aren’t we engaging with these kids now, putting it front and centre for them to say, ‘You won’t be driving a tractor, you’ll be controlling the program that’s driving the tractor for you’.

“What are we doing at the primary school age level to encourage that next generation of farmers?”

She said that while there are a number of beneficial youth programs available, such as Code Club Australia and Kidtrepreneur, they have yet to reach regional areas.

“My fear is that our next generation of farmers that are coming from the land won’t be given the education and contact that they need in technology,” she said.

“The challenge for the agtech industry as you develop and support the technology is that you cannot let go of the thought of our next generation of farmers.

“Even if we envisage what the future of farming will look like with driverless tractors, for example, these kids won’t have the skills to dream up the next generation of technology beyond that [without adequate education].”