Technical farming meets inland rail

Australian Financial Review
Christopher Jay

Meetings in Canberra this week on use of computers for agricultural soil management and the importance of the inland rail project for transporting some of the resulting improved agricultural productivity underline a growing awareness by Canberra-based national industry bodies of the benefits of detailed briefings for politicians, parliamentary advisers and resident bureaucrats.

Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce was scheduled to open a conference for Thursday at Canberra's Hotel Realm on Soil, Big Data and the Future of Agriculture. The aim is to promote the application of recent computer software analysing production data – "big data".

Just as technicians have been referring to the Internet of Things to cover increasing applications of direct machine-to-machine data handling, now they're starting to talk about the Internet of Agricultural Things (IoAT).

The gathering is hosted by the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney – as one might gather from the start time of 7am. There is support from Dow and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

The conference is billed as showing how integrating technology and farm practice can result in increased output of food and fibre while promoting clean and green production values. Covered will be digital mapping, improving soil productivity, government perspectives on digital innovation in agriculture, farm data privacy, remote and regional broadband access and government policy implications.

"We are excited that the Australian government is committed to supporting innovation in this fast-moving era of the digitisation of agriculture," event director and leader of the Soil Carbon Initiative Andrea Koch said.


"Australia, with its world-leading capabilities in precision agriculture, soil data and agricultural research, is well placed to take advantage of the evolution of agriculture in the 21st century. The United States is leading the way in this field and we are excited to discuss developments in big data analytics and 3D soil informatics with our trans-Pacific partners."

US speakers include: director of US Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture Dr Sonny Ramaswamy; senior director, Congressional relations, American Farm Bureau Federation Mary Kay Thatcher; manager, product marketing and strategy, John Deere Charles Schleusner; director, US Department of Agriculture National Water and Climate Centre Dr Mike Strobel; strategy and operations leader, measurement, Climate Corporation (owned by Monsanto) Dr Pradip Das; and precision agriculture and big data consultant Dr Terry Griffin.

Australian speakers listed include: Dr Brian Keating, executive director, Agriculture, Food and Health, CSIRO; Alicia Garden, chief executive of Grain Growers; Alex Ball, general manager, livestock productivity, Meat & Livestock Australia; and Gerard Davis, general manager, innovation and technology, Australian Agricultural Company.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday night the Australian Logistics Council held a parliamentary function in Parliament House, Canberra, to underline the "enormous benefits" of the inland rail project to federal politicians and logistics industry representatives.

Michael Kilgariff, managing director of the Australian Logistics Council, commended the government for the allocation of $300 million to make a start on this project, and the work being undertaken by the Australian Rail Track Corporation to develop the delivery program and to start planning.


"Now is time to take the next step and finish the job," he said. With $300 million already allocated, the ALC says there is a need to sustain and intensify the business pressure on the government to keep things moving. Many of Australia's leading logistics companies participated in a joint letter of advocacy for inland rail, which was published in The Australian Financial Review on May 2, 3).

"The rail freight link between Port of Melbourne and Port of Brisbane will help support improved supply chain efficiency in the movement of freight around the country," Mr Kilgariff said. 

"As Australia's freight task is expected to increase dramatically over the years to come, rail has to make a greater contribution to the efficient movement of freight on the north-south corridor.

"The effective completion of this project will see the connection of all of our major mainland cities with a world-class rail network providing the backbone for moving goods across the country with increased safety, reliability and efficiency.

"Not only will this project improve the global competitiveness of our key exports through providing a reliable rail transport alternative for agricultural and mining freight, it will also create thousands of jobs during and after construction, many in rural and regional areas." 

This article was originally published at the Financial Review

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