Technology investments to boost WA agribusinesses and regional communities

DPIRD has a number of initiatives underway to help bridge the Digital Divide in regional Western Australia and stimulate the development of agtech that boosts agribusiness productivity and profitability.

A number of initiatives to help breach the ‘digital divide’ in regional Western Australia are being implemented by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.

Digital telecommunications have become essential for modern businesses throughout the agriculture and food supply chain to operate successfully – from the use of online weather data, to precision farming, to business analysis, marketing and more.

Improved digital connectivity

The department is committed to delivering on the State Government’s commitment to provide access to fast, affordable, reliable broadband services to agribusinesses and residents across our vast State.

While the National Broadband Network rollout is nearing completion, it will not cover the entire length and breadth of Western Australia.

To address this shortcoming, the State Government announced the $17 million Agricultural Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund to pursue alternative solutions and business models that address WA’s unique operating environment.

The department, together with the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer, undertook a State Telecommunications Infrastructure Audit, to guide investments from the fund.

Department officers also compiled the nation’s first Digital Infrastructure Atlas, which maps the locations of key telecommunications infrastructure in WA, such as telephone exchanges, optic fibre trunklines and radio communication sites.

The Atlas will assist the commercial sector to identify and evaluate opportunities for investments that could improve digital connectivity for regional businesses and communities.

The $5 million Digital Farm Grants program  was announced in January, to provide matching funding for commercial service providers to fill in the gaps in the current and planned NBN fixed wireless and fixed line footprint.

The first round of grants were announced in August, to provide high speed broadband to more than 1000 farming enterprises, across the North Midlands and Great Southern, as well as in the districts of Chapman Valley, Mount Barker, Wickepin and Goodlands.

The second round of successful applicants is expected to be announced soon.

The Grainbelt Digital Enhancement project  was announced in September to address the significant variability in broadband bandwidth, download limits and speeds in the grainbelt.

The project aims to harness expertise in the commercial sector to work with the State Government and explore technical and commercial solutions to deliver a ubiquitous broadband service in the region.

Adoption of agricultural technology (agtech)

Research has identified the next leap in agricultural productivity improvements is being generated by the adoption of new digital technologies.

The department also has a number of initiatives to capture the benefits of the digital revolution in the agriculture and food sector.

The department is implementing the State Government’s  WA Internet of Things (IoT) DecisionAgGrant program  to stimulate the development and use of digital agricultural technology by WA farm businesses.

The ‘internet of things’ is a commonly used term that refers to the use of internet-based technology in everyday use, from smart phones and fitbits, home connectivity sensors, agriculture and logistics.

Matching funds have been made available to successful applicants to trial on-farm telecommunications network solutions, decision tools and analytic data platforms to assist growers to make more informed, data-driven decisions.

Successful participants will get to share their findings with each other and the broader community via an onfarm ag-tech demonstration network, to nurture and promote beneficial innovations.

The department is also supporting AgriStart’s HARVEST Agtech Accelerator program , an initiative that is assisting eight WA agtech companies via a 12 week program to scale their business, attract investment, develop new networks and partnerships or explore new export markets.

It also hosted the successful AgTech Hackathon  event, in association with the Ministry of Data, where 11 teams of computer experts came together to develop digital solutions to a range of agricultural challenges.

Funding has also been made available to fledgling start-ups and people with an agtech business idea to develop their plans at the Combine Agtech Hub.

Successful applicants receive free access to state-of-the-art office space at the Flux innovation hub, access to mentoring and networking events and the opportunity to work alongside like-minded people.                                        

The department also has several other activities in its eConnected Grainbelt  and Sheep Industry Business Innovation projects  that are examining the application of agtech in farm businesses.

It is imperative the department continues to work closely with stakeholders and service providers to ensure WA’s agricultural and food sector is best equipped to operate in an increasingly sophisticated, rapidly changing global operating environment and remain internationally competitive.