Australian agtech companies have the potential to expand their export markets but need to work harder and smarter to develop and maintain offshore opportunities, according to Farmscan Ag founder and director and University of Southern Queensland (USQ) graduate Jason Stone.
“Australia needs to lift its focus in agricultural exports beyond primary produce and into ag-related technologies, and the forum will help deliver answers for businesses to achieve that,” Mr Stone said.
The forum, being held in Toowoomba next Wednesday (May 18) is organised by Food Leaders Australia in partnership with USQ.
It will bring Australian innovators, venture capitalists and specialist research agencies together to discuss what is needed to take Australia’s agtech to the world.
It will also showcase technologies from early-stage and mature businesses which integrate components including genetics, engineering, software and smart machinery, and outline opportunities for innovation and investment.
Farmscan Ag is headquartered in Toowoomba, and last year won the Premier of Queensland’s Export Award for Environmental Solutions.
“We were one of six Australian companies that did guidance monitoring and control technology when we started, but we’re the only one that has remained Australian owned,” he said.
“If we can be leaders in our field, publicity and funding will only help to foster that, and the AgInnovate forum is a great opportunity to look at how we can step up together.”
Mr Stone is one of Farmscan Ag’s three directors. He completed his Master of Engineering at USQ, and joined NCEA as a researcher in 1994 prior to the start-up of Farmscan Ag.
The company develops and supplies after-market units which are fitted to farm machinery to provide mapping, record-keeping, monitoring, control and guidance systems. It now derives 40 per cent of its revenue outside Australia, with New Zealand, China, Brazil and Europe among its key export markets.
Farmscan Ag is the only Australian company that exhibits regularly at Germany’s Agritechnica, the world’s largest trade fair for agricultural machinery and equipment.
“We’d like to see other Australian exhibitors there too. A lot of effort goes into getting Australia’s agricultural produce into international markets, but when it comes to mechanical, electronic and precision ag products, we have so much more to offer.”
Also speaking at the 400M AgInnovate forum is Dr Andrew Kelly, Executive Director and Co-Founder of BioPacific Partners, New Zealand, who said Australia needs to “fine-tune” its approach to global innovation in the agtech sector.
“This region is too far away from the big markets and too inexperienced in how to take innovation globally. We need to lift our game, and fast,” Dr Kelly said.
He believes venture capital, which has previously been distracted by the strength in biotech and IT development, is ready to invest in agtech.
“There’s a belated awakening in capital markets to the importance of food security globally and…there’s a rediscovery of the giant economic sectors involved in food and food production.”
Dr Kelly believes pragmatism and innovation, along with astute business models, will capture market share, especially if they can process and act using real-time data, and make efficient use of limited resources such as water.
“We’re just seeing the very leading edge of this coming through and, like driverless cars, the best is yet to come.”
Positioning Toowoomba as the ‘Silicon Valley’ of ag tech
Mr Stone said the event will capitalise on the Toowoomba region’s position as a frontrunner in agtech innovation.
While the initiative builds on a long tradition of farm machinery manufacturing and related research led by USQ’s National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture (NCEA), Mr Stone warned the Toowoomba region could not afford to be complacent when it came to competition.
Mr Stone, also a member of USQ’s School of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering’s industry consultative committee, said he hoped 400M AgInnovate would build the investment community’s awareness of Australia’s superior technological capability, and Toowoomba’s position as an emerging hub for agtech innovation.
“It’s been said before: There’s nothing to stop us becoming the Silicon Valley of agriculture — we have the experience and the capacity to be the masters of our own destiny.”
Source: University of Southern Queensland and Food Leaders Australia. To register or find out more about 400M AgInnovate, go to www.400mforum.com.au