Grants foster links beyond the NBN
Tech companies are lining up for a slice of a $5 million bursary to help farming areas not connected to the National Broadband Network.
Announced by WA Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan last month, the Digital Farm Grants program is a dollar-for-dollar grant arrangement with the State Government.
Up to $500,000 funding is available per project but successful technology companies must match their funding total equally.
Applicants must also prove their project will improve connectivity to multiple enterprises or farms not serviced by the NBN or fixed wireless by at least 2020.
South Western Wireless WA chair Maree Gooch said the Narrogin-based company was readying a project application for the Great Southern.
The company already has standalone data centres operating in regional WA. Each consists of a modified 20-foot shipping container which doubles as a wireless transmission hub, connected to nearby fibre optic cables, offering what Ms Gooch said were speeds of up to 100Mbps.
The company was last year awarded a tender run to service the shires of Koorda, Mt Marshall, Mukinbudin, Nungarin, Trayning and Wyalkatchem.
“We are speaking to local government and producers, as to what is going to make a difference to them,” Ms Gooch said.
The grants form part of the $22 million State Agricultural Telecommunications Infrastructure Improvement fund, announced a year ago.
Administered by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, the fund aims to improve connectivity for agricultural businesses in regional WA.
To be eligible for a Digital Farm grant, applicants must be a licensed carrier under the Telecommunications Act 1997.
Applications will also be evaluated on the number of farming enterprises covered and the ongoing sustainability of the network as an operational commercial entity.
Speaking at the program launch in Northam last month, Ms MacTiernan said she was “disappointed” with the roll-out of the NBN in regional areas.
“The farming community made it clear to us that one of the biggest challenges is in fact this issue of digital connectivity,” she said.
“That there is amazing development going on in ag-tech, amazing opportunities in marketing, all of which require strong, capable digital infrastructure.
“It is certainly not possible for our producers to compete in an international market if we don’t have a standard to that connectivity.”
Moora Citrus Sue Middleton attended the grants launch at Northam and said digital issues were the “biggest issue” holding her business back.
She said it was not uncommon for her to use the internet during non-peak periods including 1am and 4am.
“This will help to create the innovation that we want,” Ms Middleton said.
“We certainly have done a lot of work with mobile towers and fully acknowledge those mobile towers have made an enormous difference to our communities, but this is the next stage.”
WAFarmers president Tony York said the grants would be welcomed by many.
“Connectivity is critical to the smooth operation of primary production businesses, with farmers having embraced technology and their machinery talking to each other to increase productivity and efficiency,” he said.
Grass Patch farmer Dan Sanderson welcomed the grants and said his plans to use “gross margin reporting in paddocks” had stalled because of poor internet.
“We have had to drop that because I am inputting data at 1am, which is just not a good use of our time,” he said.
Applications close on April 13. Successful projects are expected to be announced in May with construction to start around the third quarter.
Visit agric.wa.gov.au for more information.
Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.
Sign up for our emails