The Australian agricultural industry is looking to digital technologies, and the Internet of Things in particular, to double output by 2030.
Speaking at the launch of Innovation Central, a Cisco-led collaborative research centre focussed on IoT, Matt Brand, CEO of NSW Farmers, said that Australian agriculture was a $57 billion industry today and would double in value by 2030.
“The key enabler is digital technology and capability: data being converted into meaningful solutions,” he said.
“At the moment we have some great equipment out there. But farmers are overwhelmed with complexity. With Cisco’s leadership we can make data-based solutions easier for farmers. They will adopt it if it is available and we can come up with the best farmers with the most connected supply chain in the world.”
Niall Blair, NSW minister for primary industries, land and water, said the NSW government had set a goal to increase output by 30 percent by 2020.
“We need to be smart, we need to be innovative and we need to be at the cutting edge,” Blair said.
“Our farmers and our resource managers are ready to take up the challenge and embrace new technologies.”
Innovation Central was officially launched by Cisco and its partners on Monday. Founding partners are CSIRO’s Data61, the University of New South Wales (UNSW), the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF), the NSW Farmers Association, ATP Innovations – a startup incubator located in Australian Technology Park – and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.
ATP Innovations will host the centre in its facility in the ATP. It is expected to commence operations mid-year.
The launch follows Cisco’s announcement in March last year of plans for two such centres – one in Perth and one Sydney.
However the Sydney centre is with a different, and much wider, range of partners than originally envisaged. The original partner was to be Sirca, a data analytics company co-owned by 40 Australian and New Zealand universities.
The new centre will focus on the application of IoT to agriculture, smart cities and transport and will work with the Perth Centre, operated by Cisco in partnership with Curtin University and Woodside Energy and which focuses on the application of IoT to astronomy and resources. It is the latest in a network of 10 centres that Cisco has established around the world.
Cisco says it will invest $15 million in the two centres over the next five years. Cisco ANZ, CTO, Kevin Bloch, said this funding would cover only the setup costs.
“That money is just to show that we are serious,” the Cisco executive said.
“We have already had financial support from our partners to get this going and we are putting full time staff into the project. Mark Bloom is heading up both our centres in Australia full time. We have a full-time person running the Perth centre and we are hiring three engineers. Our partners are also contributing people and skills into the centres.”
Bloch said that all research projects would have to solve a customer problem: “This is not an academic exercise. This is about commercialising solutions to problems.”
He said every potential project would be assessed based on a simple formula.
“Who is the customer? What is the problem? What is the solution? Who is going to solve it and who is going to fund it?”
UNSW intends that its campus in Kensington, Sydney, will become a testbed for smart city technologies.
Mark Hoffmann, UNSW Dean of Engineering, said the university had 50,000 students and 12,000 staff, most of them based on its Kensington campus.
“It is a mini city so it creates a great test bed for these technologies. We will have a campus that will be one of the leading connected campuses and all this will happen in partnership with the other groups here,” the dean said.
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“It provides a great testbed for how people will work in a smart city. For UNSW it gives us the opportunity to be at the leading edge of these technologies.”