Australia needs to 'back' itself as agri tech leader

Liv CasbenAAP
Goterra founder Olympia Yarger (L) says Australia doesn't back its own excellence in farm technology (HANDOUT/AGRIFUTURES)
Camera IconGoterra founder Olympia Yarger (L) says Australia doesn't back its own excellence in farm technology (HANDOUT/AGRIFUTURES) Credit: AAP

Australia doesn't promote itself enough as a world leader in agricultural technology, while a gender imbalance continues to favour men, a major agri food tech conference has been told.

"We don't actually back ourselves," the founder of agri tech start-up Goterra, Olympia Yarger, told evokeAg.

"We do not recognise greatness when it's literally sitting in Esperance or Emerald," she said.

Ms Yarger used the example of Emerald-based company SwarmFarm Robotics as the "most advanced on farm robotics technology company in the world," which was overlooked in an opening address at the conference in favour of American technology.

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The audience heard addressing the gender imbalance, as well as bigger tax incentives and more investment in agricultural technology are all needed.

"Seventy-five per cent of the funding in Australia comes from white males, 80 per cent of that funding goes to white males," the head of agricultural software company Justin Webb told the audience.

"That's not right ... we should have funders looking at founders that are also female."

The agricultural conference was also told that a price on soil and tree carbon is resulting in significant land use change at the expense of farming land, according to a leading carbon farming expert.

Professor Richard Eckard from Melbourne University said an increasing demand for carbon credits from the big end of town is reducing the amount of agricultural land because of things like mass tree planting.

"I'm concerned that a price on soil and tree carbon is actually resulting in fairly significant land use change ... which will come at the expense of the land sector," Prof Eckard said.

"I regret that we put a price on soil and tree carbon because the greatest land use change we will see in Australia, post the initial settlement clearing, will be carbon-driven," he told the conference.

The carbon farming expert said carbon credits were not being used as they were designed - as a back-up mechanism for intractable emissions.

"The solution is research on actual ways to reduce emissions ... let's not monetise carbon credits as the way to buy our way out of trouble," Prof Eckard said.

The audience also heard on Tuesday that big supermarket chains across the world have helped to influence governments to make it harder for other companies to enter their markets.

There's increasing pressure on Australia's two big supermarkets, Coles and Woolworths, over their pricing policies in the face of the cost of living crisis.

Professor Philip Howard from Michigan State University, who has studied competition policy in the United States, said Australian consumers could help drive prices down.

"It's got to be producers and consumers working together, which is hard because they are not always connected," Prof Howard said.

But he said technology had helped change that by connecting small producers directly with customers to get a higher share of the retail price.

Some 1800 delegates from 19 countries were in Perth for the two-day conference which finishes on Wednesday.

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