Most industries have at least one eye, if not both, firmly set on the future and ours is no different. 

AgriFutures evokeAG was recently held at Melbourne’s historic Royal Exhibition Building and as one of the Asia Pacific region’s largest agrifood tech events, it provided an immersive experience that delivered farming insights from all corners of the globe. This year, the two-day program saw more than 70 speakers from eight different countries, providing insights on the future of food, farming and tech. 

EvokeAG is designed to showcase developments in AgTech across Australia and from around the world, while also providing a platform for start-ups to present their innovations, giving the industry an opportunity to explore the future of agrifood tech globally.

AgriFutures Australia Managing Director John Harvey says evokeAG aims to inspire and challenge new ways of thinking in the industry.

“We are putting the Australian agrifood tech ecosystem on the global stage. In its second year, evokeAG. has attracted more delegates, more speakers, more farmers, more startups and more investors and it’s tremendously exciting to see all parts of the ecosystem coming together to share their ideas and innovations on the future of our agricultural industry,” said Mr Harvey.

This year’s event focussed on the major themes of sustainability, technology and investment.  Topics such as the growing population and its changing habits, the future of agricultural sustainability and investment in startups being major talking points.

Sustainability

Like much of the community, a major focus of the conference was sustainability. Bayer’s Head of Crop Strategy Frank Terhorst said that “We are at a tipping point where both consumers and our planet demand a fundamental change in the agricultural system. As we address the growing world challenges, we need to find sustainable ways of food production that preserve both our natural resources and farmers’ economic viability.”

Responding to our growing population was also discussed, with CEO of SVG Ventures John Hartnett exploring how we can use technology to get more out of available resources to feed our growing population and the evolving demands of consumers.

Australia’s adaptation to water shortages featured in discussions. Strategic Project Manager of Murray Dairy, Amy Fay, talked about how producers are going through changes in their businesses in order to achieve the steep change required in water use efficiency, and the many ways farmers can increase water use efficiency on their farms.

Investment

Growth rarely occurs without some form of investment and this was the challenge placed before those at evokeAG

Rachael Neumann, Head of Startups in Australia and New Zealand at Amazon Web Services, said that research and development in agricultural start-ups is a critical foundation to drive innovation and currently Australia is not investing enough.

“At the moment Australia invests 1.87% as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the global average is 2.3%” she says. If start-ups are to continue innovating and if farmers are to remain competitive on the world stage, investment in this area is going to need to improve.

In positive news, AgFunder’s Founding Partner Michael Dean revealed that overall investment into Australia’s agrifood technology has jumped by 83%, with total investment in 2019 being $90.3 million, compared to $49 million the year prior. He noted the increased investment not only indicated growth in the number and scale of innovation projects but also the maturity of those projects.

Startups

EvokeAG was the perfect opportunity for emerging start-ups to gain exposure with key players across the industry, with many on-hand to pitch, network and display their offerings. A number of key themes emerged in the offerings presented including real-time data collection and interpretation, robotics, AI and more broadly products and technology promoting sustainability and regenerative farming practices.

One start-up company highlighted at the event was GoMicro who are re-inventing the microscope and instilling it with artificial intelligence, helping make it more accessible to the public and not just scientists.

GoMicro’s focus is on agriculture to help farmers and agronomists detect pests, leaf disease and assess food quality accurately using a low-cost GoMicro Phone attachment as a microscope and pairing this with an AI-driven app. This means pests and leaf disease detection could soon become a more accurate, affordable and accessible process for growers.

Another start-up Thingc Robotics is focusing on the next wave of the agricultural workforce. Thingc have developed an on-demand workforce made up of fully autonomous, smart field robots. The robots can carry out a large range of farming tasks, such as organic weeding and autonomous mowing. By replacing tractor-mounted tools, Thingc’s robots help address significant labour challenges experienced by farmers, fixing the current need for every machine to have at least one operator. A fleet of Thingc robots can be managed by a single operator and are 100% electric powered.

Zetifi aims to solve connectivity problems on farms and stations using proprietary technology that significantly reduces the cost of building large scale off-grid wireless networks. Zetifi have developed technology that enables power-efficient broadband connectivity across vast distances, providing a solution for supplying the high bandwidth, farm-wide connectivity that primary producers need. 

With government and industry investment, start-ups such as these can contribute greatly to overall agricultural sustainability, promoting greater monitoring and connectivity on farms as well as improved responses to labour challenges, providing an overall more efficient agricultural business.

Walking away from an event like this, it becomes clear just how interdependent each of these areas are upon one another. Startups need investment and investors are always looking for opportunities that promise innovation and growth. Then, if we want to continue to achieve sustainability breakthroughs, we need fresh, innovative and entrepreneurial thinkers to help drive them.

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