A rapid uptake of technology is needed for Australia’s $60 billion agriculture industry to remain productive and competitive as it contends with extreme weather events, intense global competition, biosecurity risks, quality assurance and social licence. The Future of Agricultural Technologies report, released by Australian Council of Learned Academies last week, found improving the pace and direction of technological innovation was a crucial strategy to keeping Australian agriculture profitable and sustainable. It suggested rapid adoption of technology would be essential to reaching the Federal Government’s goal of agriculture being a $100 billion industry by 2030. It also highlighted the importance for primary producers, government and industry to work together to allow the development, uptake and success of new technology. The report was commissioned by Australia’s chief scientist Alan Finkel on behalf of the National Science and Technology Council, with support from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. “However, reaching the Government’s goal of $100 billion by 2030 will likely require more than just incremental technological advancements,” Dr Finkel said. “Australian producers have been rapid adopters of innovation, and emerging technologies will help our agriculture sector to transform and tackle current and future challenges.” The report examined the opportunities presented by nine technologies to improve the efficiency and profitability of agricultural production, develop novel agricultural industries and markets, and to contribute to a range of social and environmental values. This included sensors, the Internet of Things, robotics, machine learning, large-scale optimisation and data fusion, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and distributed ledger technology. The report also highlighted challenges and considerations for governments, industry and the wider sector to further develop and enable the adoption of these technologies. It found “no single emerging technology” would solve the challenges facing Australian agriculture, but highlighted the importance of biotechnology and digital technology. “This includes asset automation and optimisation, supply chain optimisation, rapid testing of localised crops and robotics,” the report said. “This will be enabled and driven by a reduction in cost and the increasing capability of computational hardware, communications and memory, coupled with increasing investment and capacity in software and algorithm development. “Sensors and blockchain technologies employed by primary producers, processors and retailers will enable quality assurance programs to verify and communicate the quality and ethical attributes of products. “(This will lead) to improved transparency of the environmental impacts, animal welfare and treatment of workers for consumers. Biotechnologies have the potential to improve the resilience of crops and livestock to climate variability and to pests and diseases. Gene editing provides opportunities to cultivate new and improved products in agriculture.” Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the report made it “abundantly clear that strategic investment in the development of new tech” was critical if “agriculture is to stay ahead of the game”. “Australian farmers already have some of the most advanced farming practices in the world, and the findings of this report confirm the importance of ensuring farmers and businesses on-farm have easy access to innovative technologies into the future along the supply chain,” he said. He said the report aligned with the Federal Government’s Digital Foundations for Agriculture Strategy — expected to be unveiled early next year — which is expected to work out a clear path forward for digital agriculture in Australia. It is designed to address the major barriers to uptake digital technologies to make sure the foundations — infrastructure, knowledge, skills and drive — are there for agricultural businesses to use modern digital technologies across their entire business. The digitisation of farms through the “Internet of Things” and data gathering and use will likely play a central role in future farm management strategies, allowing farms to track resources, monitor animal and plant health, support farm labour activities and enable precision agriculture. The Future of Agricultural Technologies report was the fifth in ACOLA’s Horizon Scanning series, which draws on the expertise of Australia’s Learned Academies and the Royal Society of Te Aparangi. It built on two previous ACOLA reports on artificial intelligence and synthetic biology. KEY FINDINGS 1. Addressing the opportunities and challenges facing Australian agriculture requires transformative application of emerging technologies. 2. Australia’s agricultural technology and innovation ecosystem needs revitalisation to provide more opportunity for stakeholder involvement and to break down sectoral and disciplinary silos. 3. The strength and resilience of Australia’s agricultural sector will be enhanced by supporting adoption of agricultural technology by Indigenous landholders. 4. Technology development and adoption across Australian agriculture should include explicit consideration of buyer preferences and expectations. 5. Appropriate policy settings are needed to enable technological implementation to move beyond incrementalism and support transformational change. 6. Data are a powerful asset but will require appropriate national leadership and regulation to ensure their potential value to agriculture is realised. 7. Empowering Australia’s regions through investment in local solutions and capacity will facilitate transformational change through agricultural technologies and will provide complementary social and economic benefits. 8. Farmers and other agricultural workers need support to familiarise themselves with emerging technologies and to obtain the specialist skills required to maximise their use.