Delivering practical solutions for farmers has been Dr Emma Leonard’s focus for more than 20 years and it’s at the heart of her recently completed PhD titled ‘A Change Management Approach to Unlocking the Value of Digital Agriculture for Family Farming Businesses’.
“My objective was to do a PhD that would produce value for the agricultural industry and that it will support greater adoption of digital technologies and services to occur,” Dr Leonard said.
Dr Leonard’s research through UNE, which was supported by Food Agility CRC, developed evaluation tools to understand the current level of digital know-how and process in a farming business team and what they want to achieve.
“To achieve adoption of digital agriculture the industry needs to move from the current ‘technology for a task’ approach, to one where technology design considers the personal motivations of the users and the processes in which they will be used,” she said.
“Too often technologies are competing for the same market space, with little ability to interoperate with other technologies, and within a process that doesn’t recognise the time, skills and trust constraints of the on-farm operator.”
Dr Leonard’s research focused on a change management approach by both the suppliers and potential users of digital agriculture.
It’s also something she’s putting into practice in her own business, AgriKnowHow.
“I’m using the evaluation tools and change management guide developed during the PhD to help a farm business identify how a desired change fits into their current business approaches, operations, and goals,” Dr Leonard said.
“Also to understand the strengths and weaknesses of making the successful change, and how these can be addressed.”
Dr Leonard came to postgraduate research as a mature student, adding that the resilience she’d developed in running her own business helped her tackle the PhD journey – especially during the pandemic.
“With clients across Australia and being based on a farm on Yorke Peninsula in South Australia, I was accustomed to working remotely and from home, long before COVID,” she said.
“It feels great to have been through the PhD process successfully and I value the learning opportunities this has provided about my topic, research techniques, new software and about myself.”
Dr Leonard said being a Food Agility HDR student also provided opportunities to network and develop new skills.
“The financial support was most welcome but the interaction with other students and staff was also really beneficial,” she said.
“I was especially lucky to have the ever-enthusiastic Professor David Lamb as one of my supervisors.
“The face-to-face conference in 2020, which we had to attend and produce a poster and present a 3-minute thesis, was especially rewarding both for the delivery activity, and in becoming more engaged with the research of other students.
“This engagement culminated in a presentation at the 2022 Digital Agrifood Summit with Stuart Martin and Philip Browning, fellow pracademics and CRC PhD scholars, illustrating how our PhD topics intersected to create a fourth layer of new knowledge.”
Dr Leonard’s PhD will be awarded in a formal UNE graduation ceremony in December.