As global agricultural production methods and supply chains have become more digitised, farmers around the world are adopting digital AgTech such as drones, Internet of Things (IoT), remote sensors, blockchain, and satellite imagery to inform their on-farm decision-making.
While early adopters and technology advocates globally are spruiking and realising the benefits of digital AgTech, many Australian farmers are reluctant or unable to participate fully in the digital economy. This is an important issue, as the Australian Government has said that digital farming is essential to meeting its target of agriculture being a $100billion industry by 2030.
Most studies of AgTech adoption focus on individual-level barriers, yielding well-documented issues such as access to digital connectivity, availability of AgTech suppliers, non-use of ICTs, and cost-benefit for farmers. In contrast, our project took an ‘ecosystems’ approach to study cotton farmers in the Darling Downs region in Queensland, Australia who are installing water sensors, satellite imagery, and IoT plant probes to generate data to be aggregated on a dashboard to inform decision-making.
Researchers asked farmers to map their local ecosystem, and then set up interviewing different stakeholders (such technology providers, agronomists, and suppliers) to understand how community-level orientations to digital agriculture enabled and constrained on-farm adoption. They identified human factors of digital AgTech adoption at the macro, regional and farm levels, with a pronounced ‘data divide’ between farm and community level stakeholders within the ecosystem.
This ‘data divide’ is characterised by a capability gap between the provision of the devices and software that generate data by technology companies, and the ability of farmers to manage, implement, use, and maintain them effectively and independently. In the Condamine Plains project, farmers were willing and determined to learn new, advanced digital and data literacy skills. Other farmers in different circumstances may not see value in such an undertaking or have the necessary support to take full advantage of the technologies once they are implemented. Moreover, there did not seem to be a willingness or capacity in the rest of the ecosystem to fill this gap.
The work raises questions about the type and level of new, digital expertise farmers need to attain in the transition to digital farming, and what interventions are necessary to address the significant barriers to adoption and effective use that remain in rural communities.
By holistically considering how macro- and micro-level factors may be combined with community-level influences, this study provides a more complete and holistic account of the contextualised factors that drive or undermine digital AgTech adoption on farms in rural communities. This report provides insights and evidence to inform strategies for rural ecosystems to transition farms to meet the requirements and opportunities of Agriculture 4.0 in Australia and abroad.