Launching future farms

March 15, 2018

Orchard management has been pointed out as one of the focuses for the region in a report on on-farm trials and options.

Tatura orchardists are set to benefit from a trial of ‘internet of things’ initiatives aimed at launching farms into the 21st century and creating on-farm efficiencies from mid year.

After $12million was announced towards the project in last year’s Victorian budget, an additional $15million was revealed this week for the program, to be trialled at four agricultural hubs across Victoria.

Details on specific projects or businesses are yet to be announced.

But Tatura was in this year’s budget named as a one of four locations around Victoria to participate in the trial program.

Then on Tuesday, State Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford announced additional program funding, flagging orchardists in Tatura as among the first beneficiaries.

Planning for the trial was complete, she said, adding the department would now begin deploying Internet of Things networks and devices to hundreds of farms across the regions.

She said they had an ‘‘ambitious target’’ of 600 digitalised farms, including orchards around Tatura, in the next two years.

A report on the on-farm trials and options for implementations pointed to fruits, nuts and berries being a focus in Tatura and sketched out orchard management, micro management of growth cycles and traceability as proposed focuses for the region.

The aim is for the state to become a world leader in digital agriculture and the industry would be consulted on the delivery of the package.

A statement from the department specified IoT networks would be installed for farmer and public access with hundreds of farms set to install sensors and devices to monitor, and in some cases control, farm operations.

‘‘It is a stretch target but we believe we need to move quickly in this space,’’ Ms Pulford said.

‘‘These trial farms will provide the foundation for a capable, digital-ready and internationally competitive farming sector.

‘‘They are designed to reduce adoption barriers, in particular the lack of digital connectivity, skills and capital in the sector and demonstrate the return on investment.’’

While concerned that agriculture had been identified in reports as among the nation’s least digitised industries, State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed was pleased Tatura had been included in the trial.

Ms Sheed flagged farming as the region’s backbone and stressed the importance of staying on top of technology advancements for local enterprise.

‘‘When you do these sorts of test areas and show people what they can do, you establish what works and doesn’t in a farming enterprise,’’ she said.

‘‘I imagine the uptake, once we see benefits, in particular in those aspects relevant to them, will be huge.’’

Ms Sheed said she had observed an appetite for technological advancements.

‘‘I think farmers are always focused on being more efficient in reducing their overheads ... looking for knowledge and new ways of doing things.

‘‘We will see (developments) embraced much more as the next generation of younger farmers comes through.’’

Fruitgrowers Victoria chairman Gary Godwill said such ‘‘important’’ improvements could ensure local agriculture stayed competitive with foreign countries where production and labour costs were lower, and had the potential to put Australia at a cost disadvantage.

He stressed the importance of connectivity to modern farming, where much of an operation could be managed and controlled from a farmer’s mobile device.

Mr Godwill said Tatura being chosen for the trial was valuable and would ensure the region could watch on with interest.

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