Mapping how technology can help future-proof agricultural industries

January 11, 2023

Visiting Research Fellow, Derek Baker, provides an update on his current research project, in conjunction with Agrifutures.


Mapping how technology can help future-proof agricultural industries

Visiting Research Fellow, Derek Baker, provides an update on his current research project, in conjunction with Agrifutures.

January 11, 2023

I’ve spent the last six months travelling around Australia meeting with representatives and stakeholders in the Industrial Hemp, Jackfruit, Export Fodder, Rice, and Ginger industries.
These meetings have laid the foundation for my work on Food Agility CRC’s latest research project, in conjunction with Agrifutures, ‘Agriculture Production System Technology Mapping’.
Each of these industries have competitors abroad, but few have the organisational strength and strategic focus of Australian agroindustries.
This project – optimistic about all five of them – is helping the industries organise around technological change rather than inventing new technologies. The analysis the project develops is advancing on-farm decisions beyond static investment ones, into whole-of-chain strategy.
A large segment of this project has centred on reviewing literature, seeking out what science has to offer each of these industries. Equally important is, what kind of organisational structure will support the science? This has turned out to be a key consideration in each of my consultations.
For most of these industries there is great enthusiasm about high-end consumer and industrial uses, sustainability, attracting the environmentally conscious consumer, regional development, and rural resilience.

Derek Baker (left) visiting Leon and Connie of Ashford Hemp, NSW Northern Tablelands

Production methods have already embraced best practice, and technologies to address those tasks are now desperately needed. Capturing markets, and doing it at a profit, is usually the next challenge. Each industry has its own supply chain structure and function – and this means a different kind of information flow that digital technologies might use.
Each of these industries have a great track record of technical research, and a big part of this project has been establishing the financial analysis of supply chains that assesses the benefits and costs of change.
That information has started to paint a clearer picture of where the value lies in technological adoption. In most cases, this is not about precise gross margin or Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA), but about seeing who pays for what and who gets the benefit.
With emerging industries, the results have a lot to do with capacity utilisation: Do producers and processors already have the equipment and just need to change its use? Will there be enough product there to ensure that new equipment operates profitably? How can limited product volume be scheduled along the supply chain and into highest valued uses? 
As with all industrial development, there are hard questions to answer about who does what. Export fodder confronts uncertainty on international markets, especially with today’s fluctuating exchange rates. Hemp’s development confronts much bias and misperception based on a history of marijuana’s prohibition. Rice development targets a highly competitive international market, while trying to reduce its water consumption to meet Australian environmental conditions. The best places to grow ginger are also places where people want to build houses.
Technology and organisation contain some of the answers, and these have emerged from Australian research, development and extension. Many of the needs of emerging industries require industry-wide change, and some new policy. This changes some of the project’s calculus and focuses discussion among the stakeholders in this project.

The analysis the project develops is advancing on-farm decisions beyond static investment ones, into whole-of-chain strategy.

I have conducted 74 of these consultations across four states, with another dozen to come in another two states in January 2023. As always happens when researchers get out in the field, there is a new appreciation of on-farm innovation and farmers’ can-do attitudes.
This project has shown that it is possible to list and analyse the costs and benefits of some new technology. What has been learned is that the organisation and arrangements along the supply chain are what generates those benefits and costs. The importance of the supply chain brings us full circle into Food Agility’s subject matter – which data matters and how best to deliver it?
These are the two advances this project is making, and the industry people are teaching the researchers a lot in the process.
The project is putting its findings together as roadmaps for strategy, and for identifying the value in making changes. It is also clear from this research that the supply side of the technology choice equation is poorly written– Food Agility’s AgTech Finder website is a leader in providing the options.
In 10 years these industries will either be established or will have vanished. Mapping is more about finding the journey than the destination and assisting industry actors to work with each other. There’s plenty of work still to do.

Get Involved

If you are involved in the production of Industrial Hemp, Jackfruit, Export Fodder, Rice, or Ginger, and would like to be involved in this project, you can contact Derek Baker.

About the Author

Derek Baker is a Visiting Research Fellow at Food Agility CRC. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science and Farm Management, a PhD in Agricultural Economics, and a Master’s in Research Management.
His research work is in performance issues in the food supply chain, and the role of technologies in regional development and sustainability.  Most recently his work has extended to digital transformation and its elusive value proposition at firm and industry level.

Non-project publications

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