Wednesday, December 6, 2023

New tech emerges, adoption lags

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Nearly one in five New Zealand farmers is struggling to keep up with the pace of technological change and 80% of them are underestimating its effects – even as their rural businesses are disrupted by it according to a new report. Luke Chivers explains.
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New technologies are already significantly disrupting the rural sector but few farmers are prepared for the level of change occuring, the MYOB Future of Business report shows. 

Technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and the internet of things are now significantly disrupting the rural sector.

The software company’s nationwide research, which polled more than 1000 small and medium-sized business operators, found 17% farmers expect technology will have no impact on their business over the next few years.  

Of those who expect technological disruption just 18% expect rapidly evolving trends like AI and robotics to affect the sector while just 3% expect big data to do the same. 

But 24% of farmers expect improvements in internet connectivity to change their businesses.

MYOB said while the internet and faster, more reliable broadband might well benefit rural businesses over the next few years, it is questionable whether such technology will continue to impact farmers in the same way AI and robots will.

“If we compare current technology like the internet and cloud computing to that expected in the next three to five years the so-called transformative paper-to-desktop era of the last 20 years was simply the beginning of our technology journey,” an MYOB spokesman said.

“Today, the next wave of disruption – the dawn of AI, nanobots, the internet of things and big data – is imminent and is set to change the role technology plays in business.”

It is a notion echoed by Acuris Systems founder Nicholas Woon.

The Auckland-based agritech start-up is using the capability of AI, machine learning and robotics to accurately count crops and collect other important data for horticulturists. 

“Human error is expensive and (humans are) prone to error,” Woon said. 

The tech sector needs to develop business models that are better at communicating with people in the primary sector, Agritech New Zealand chief executive Peter Wren-Hilton says.

A lot of farmers do not believe the Halter technology is real until he shows them a video of it in practice and explains how it is no different to a dog herding sheep, albeit a lot less stressful on the animals. 

“Once farmers have seen it the first thing they ask is ‘when is it going to be ready?’”. 

Woon sees a similar trend in horticulture.

“Many growers I speak to are resistant to technology until they see first-hand how it can help.”

The local tech sector needs to develop business models that are better at collaborating with our agricultural communities to help them realise the potential of new technology, Woon said. 

Agritech NZ chief executive Peter Wren-Hilton agrees.

“Farmers are slow to uptake new technology because many older farmers are able to run their businesses with a minimal understanding of computers and other technologies – and a lot of farmers don’t know they could be doing better.

“Sure, technology can help, but so far we are only scratching the surface with what it can do because in the past farmers haven’t had broadband connectivity, many haven’t looked to exploit the systems or tools which can help.”

He said NZ invests nearly $750 million in research and development for food and agriculture but does not really know what type of tech is being used and by who.

“Quantitative research is needed across the local primary sector to truly realise the benefits of new tech.” 

But NZ is achieving good agritech export growth rates relative to many countries, with an estimated $1.3 billion agritech exported in 2017. 

Global agritech investment is also expanding rapidly with venture capital investment in agritech firms in 2017 reaching US$1.7b and likely to exceed US$2b this year.

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