The unique nature of Australian agriculture has ensured its farmers are among the most efficient and innovative in the world, with machinery and technology needing to keep pace to operate within unforgiving parameters. And as early adopters of new technology and practices, Esperance farmers are among some of the most innovative in the world, according to Deere and Company senior vice-president and chief technology officer Jahmy Hindman. Mr Hindman made the comments at the opening of AFGRI Equipment’s new Esperance workshop on January 30. “We are developing products that will help them (farmers) be more sustainable economically and environmentally,” Mr Hindman said. More than 160 farmers and industry players attended the launch in the state-of-the-art 60m x 40m workshop building at 87 Norseman Road in Castletown. John Deere Crop Care Platform Engineering global director Todd Signer — another industry giant who attended the event — said farmers in Australia, including Esperance, were challenged like no others. He said while their geographical location meant they had to work harder to overcome obstacles, including those imposed by water — such as low rainfall and salinity — advances in technology could enable farmers to maximise their profit. At the same time, they could minimise the impact on the environment with more efficient fuel use and precise fertiliser and spray applications, such as the See and Spray SelectTM — examples of practices made possible by technological advances in the field. The attendance of the two John Deere executives reflected the important role agents play, with both of them stressing good service was crucial, and noting sales and support people developed genuine relationships with their clients. AFGRI chief executive Norman Celliers and AFGRI Equipment managing director Patrick Roux also attended. Mr Celliers has been quoted in the past as saying advances in technology have changed the nature of farming, and of farmers themselves. He reiterated this at the Esperance event, saying technology and social media were making it possible for farmers living and working in isolated areas to remain connected to the outside world. Consequently, more sons and daughters were returning to farms, he said, and could remain connected, socially and professionally, while also learning on-farm and becoming engaged in the business. Mr Celliers said as a profession no longer defined by manual labour, farming had become a “practice of science, technology, biochemistry and business”, broadening its appeal to people of all genders. Mr Hindman provided an insight into John Deere’s progress with autonomous machines, with trials continuing as the company explores the potential for driverless tractors on-farm. Not only were autonomous machines efficient, he said, but they also freed up time for farmers to spend on other tasks. AFGRI Equipment Australia chief executive Wessel Oosthuizen outlined the company’s historical commitment to WA’s farming sector, which began in 2004 when it bought T & H Walton Stores. The company acquired Ratten and Slater in 2017, giving itself an imposing presence in Esperance and adding three more branches to its folio. Mr Oosthizen outlined the company’s commitment to and investment in employees, including the AFGRI Apprentice Academy, in collaboration with Central Regional TAFE, and an immigration program aimed at boosting the number of qualified technicians to meet customer demand. A lively discussion panel focused on John Deere’s recently announced partnership with SpaceX, which aims to provide cutting-edge satellite communications to farmers. Use of the Starlink network would allow farmers with connectivity challenges to access precision agricultural technologies they may currently be excluded from, the crowd heard.