Soil Big Data has evolved from the ‘Soil, Big Data and the Future of Agriculture’ conference, that was held in Canberra in June 2015. This was the first big public event in Australia discussing big data in agriculture, and the first in the world to bring soil into that dialogue.
The digital transformation of agriculture is already well underway in the United States and in Australia, across all aspects of agriculture and livestock production. In the US there is a high level of industry engagement in topics such as big data analytics in agriculture and the Internet of Agricultural Things (IoAT). There are a range of drivers, including government investment in research, a vibrant and growing agri-tech investment sector, and recognition by agribusiness suppliers of the potential to open up new service markets in the farm sector. The same level of industry and policy engagement in these topics is growing in Australia.
To raise awareness of these trends and encourage public debate on the issues facing farmers, the United States Studies Centre, with the support of DOW and the NSW Department of Primary Industries, held the inagural Soil, Big Data and the Future of Agriculture conference on 25 June, 2015 in Canberra, at the Realm Hotel.
Convened by Andrea Koch in her role as Director of the Soil Carbon Inititiative at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, the Soil, Big Data and the Future of Agriculture conference explored the rapid advances in big data analytics in agriculture and delved into a range of issues foremost in the minds of farmers as they consider the future, including farm data privacy and security, and remote and rural access to broadband capacity.
The conference featured discussions on the following key themes:
- Digital innovation in agriculture – a Government Perspective
- Big data in agriculture and the Internet of Agricultural Things
- Digital Soil Productivity - how soil data can transform farm productivity
- Farm data security and privacy
- The Future of Agriculture – Policy and Research Implications
The USSC welcomed an exceptional line up of political, commercial and scientific leaders in agriculture and soil science.The Australian Minister for Agriculture, The Honourable Barnaby Joyce MP spoke on the topic 'Innovation in Australian Agriculture'. He was joined by an array of international leaders and experts including:
- Dr Sonny Ramaswamy, Director USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture
- Mary Kay Thatcher, Senior Director, Congressional Relations, American Farm Bureau Federation
- Charles Schleusner, Manager, Product Marketing and Strategy, John Deere
- Dr Mike Strobel, Director, USDA National Water and Climate Center
- Dr Pradip Das, Strategy and Operations Leader, Measurement, Climate Corporation (owned by Monsanto)
- Dr Terry Griffin, Precision Agriculture and Big Data consultant
Big data technology will affect every industry across the Australian agriculture sector, which was well represented by our Australian speakers, including:
- The Honourable John Anderson AO, Former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia
- Gerard Davis, General Manager, Innovation and Technology, Australian Agricultural Company
- Alex Ball, General Manager, Livestock Productivity, Meat and Livestock Australia
- Michael Eyres, Founder, Injekta Field Systems
- Alicia Garden, CEO, GrainGrowers
- Georgina Kelly, Director Soils, NSW Department of Primary Industries
- Peter Leonard, Partner, Gilbert and Tobin
- Professor Alex McBratney, Professor of Soil Science, University of Sydney
- Brian Keating, Executive Director, Agriculture Food and Health, CSIRO
- Peter Wilson, Manager, National Soil Information Centre, CSIRO
The mission of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney is to increase understanding of the United States in Australia. As the leading centre of US studies outside the US, the Centre provides knowledge and expertise in public policy, and leads successful think tank projects of interest and importance to both Australia and the US. From 2010 until 2016 the Dow Sustainability Program, under the leadership of the Honourable Robert Hill AC has provided significant thought leadership and deepened relations between the US and Australia across a range of themes, including soil.
Andrea Koch led the Soil Carbon Initiative, a project of the Dow Sustainability Program, from 2010 until 2016. This project was established with the aim of addressing the historic lack of political engagement with the issue of global soil degradation. The starting focus for the project was to explore the science around the potential for soil carbon sequestration, but it quickly developed a much broader perspective as the impact of soil degradation on the world’s ability to supply the food, fibre and energy needs of the increasing global population became clear.
The concept of soil security is significant thought leadership to have come from this initiative. Soil security is an agricultural concept, as it concerns soil that is managed by farmers for the production of food and fibre, but which must also contribute to broader natural resource management outcomes of water security, regulation of the climate, energy security and other ecosystem services.
As the Australian agriculture sector looks for new ways to dramatically increase productivity, improving and maintaining soil security will be paramount to achieve the win-win of increased production of food and fibre, while at the same time improving the condition of the main resource asset, the soil.
Australia and the US have a deep history of commercial and scientific collaboration in agriculture, and also in soil science and soil conservation. The US Studies Centre was pleased to have drawn these strands together in this conference to create this important dialogue about the future of soil and agriculture.