How data can help agricultural businesses innovate

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Agriculture isn’t just about producing mass crops anymore – it’s about producing mass data.

With a growing population and climate challenges to confront, those in agriculture need to do more with less – and they need to be smart about it.

For many years, farming has relied on generations of learned knowledge and some old-fashioned trial and error, but agriculture producers are finding that this is only getting them so far.

We’re witnessing a new agricultural revolution, triggered by the adoption of new technologies such as satellites, high precision positioning systems, smart sensors and a range of IT applications combined with high-tech engineering.

Growers have quickly adopted new precision agricultural technologies.

Agricultural production that used to start in greenhouses and fields now starts with data that can be analysed to develop hypotheses and plan experiments.

Growers can use fewer chemicals and apply them in very precise ways.

With the availability of GPS and other technologies, growers can track yields, steer and control equipment, monitor field conditions across fields, substantially increasing productivity and profitability.

In fact, the growth in tech tools to solve old problems has spawned an entire industry: AgTech.

Last year, StartupAus together with KPMG (with support from Commonwealth Bank and the Queensland Government) commissioned a report to examine the opportunities in the field.

It found that the global opportunity for AgTech would be $189 billion between 2013 and 2022.

The new technology needed to take advantage of this opportunity has spawned a venture capital system dedicated solely to AgTech worth $1.5 billion – and growing rapidly.

At the heart of this revolution is one opportunity: big data.

Go big or go home

The term ‘big data’ refers to the “generation of enormous amounts of data due to new technologies for measurement, collection and storage”.

Big data is being accumulated in large quantities. It’s almost impossible to assess using standard analysis techniques.

It’s shaping up to be crucial to Australia’s and NZ’s agricultural potential. We’ve got the soil – now we just need the smarts.

The Australian Farm Institute has labelled the use of big data in analysing everything from crop yield to weather patterns as “[the] third major revolution: the digital agriculture revolution.”

It argued that the dramatic reduction in technology cost has made adaption in farm implements and farm monitoring a very real possibility.

What’s more, it says that even now, in the early days of the AgTech revolution, gains in the order of 10 to 15 percent have been recorded in cropping systems.

But farmers know that crop yield and management is only one part of the equation when it comes to a successful operation – the books need to be in order as well.

The laptop revolution

In the same way the agriculture sector is learning to harness huge amounts of data to drive yield gains, agriculture business owners can harness the data in their own books.

After all, when you’re travelling between paddocks it’s hard to find time to look at endless spreadsheets.

For many agricultural businesses, some of their most significant cost- and time-savings are being made by investing in agricultural online accounting software like MYOB.

Online accounting software is helping many agricultural businesses identify which aspects of their operation are most profitable, and which are potentially more work than they’re worth.

It’s about identifying what parts of the business are going to offer the most bang for buck.

With greater insight into how a business is functioning, business owners can plan better and think more strategically about what they do.

The opportunity in big data isn’t in the mere collection of the data – it’s in turning the data into insights which can be used to make better decisions.

That’s where online accounting software shines: collecting and presenting the data in a way that allows business owners to make the best possible choices about their business.

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