“The train has left the station.” That was the message for delegates at the Digital Agrifood Summit discussing robotics and automation in agriculture.
This week, more than 300 people gathered in Wagga Wagga for the two-day Summit, a joint initiative of Charles Sturt University, Food Agility Cooperative Research Centre and the AgriPark.
A panel of experts in robotics and artificial intelligence challenged the idea that automation would cost agricultural jobs.
“Robots replace tasks not jobs. Automation will mean people can take on value adding opportunities in their businesses and is a necessity in Australia where there is a shortage of labour,” said Dr Sue Keay, the robotics lead at Oz Minerals and Chair of Robotics Australia.
The panellists agreed that technological innovation could help lead the revitalisation of Australia’s regions, attracting people with the prospect of skilled jobs and relaxed lifestyle.
Transforming regional communities was a key theme at the Summit, with Chair of Bega, Barry Irvin, who said it was time to move beyond sustainability and towards circularity.
Mr Irvin explained how his company was forging a new approach to production and a new vision for the Bega Valley, based around circular economy principles. “People often think that a circular economy just means recycling, but it’s so much more than that,” Mr Irvin said.
“It’s about shortening supply chains and using the resources closest to you, then thinking about how you can work with others to minimise waste and ensure that all outputs have potential other uses. “It makes good sense, particularly in a world where supply chains are disrupted and inefficient.”
Bega Cheese is working with stakeholders across the region to transform practices relating to waste, water, soil, biodiversity, animal welfare, emissions, packaging, logistics and community engagement.
Another big Australian agrifood company to deliver a comprehensive climate strategy is Australian Agricultural Company (AACo), and once again, delivering value back to the community was a priority.
“As we grow and benefit from that growth, we want to ensure that benefit is extended into the communities we operate in,” said Naomi Wilson, Head of Environment and Sustainability at AACo.
Ms Wilson joined panellists discussing the emerging carbon economy. The panel cited the need for cheaper carbon measurement tools, greater education and integration of carbon projects to drive greater farmer participation in carbon markets.
The Summit also included live technology demonstrations at the Global Digital Farm, an exhibition featuring 20 agtech companies, research showcases and a gala dinner hosted by Prof. Stan Grant Jnr.
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