The farmer wants technology

Published on
October 2, 2013

Agriculture and farming is big business. It’s also a backbone of Australia that conjures nostalgic images of drovers, cattle, and wide open plains, and helps generate more than $48.7 billion1 to the Australian economy each year.

Of that figure, $19 billion2 is contributed directly by Australian animals, whether they are used to produce meat or by-products, for leisure, entertainment, or work purposes.

With such significant dollars at stake it is not surprising technology plays an increasingly important role, with the traditional image of cattlemen on horseback replaced by one more relevant to the 21st century.

Quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this year, Commonwealth Bank’s Commodities Strategist Luke Matthews said;

“The adoption of new technology is going to be crucial for Australia to maintain its competitiveness in terms of the global agricultural sector. If we don’t adapt to new technology, we can give up on these high-flying ambitions of being the food bowl of Asia.” 3

In fact, we can look back to 2007 to see technology contributing to Australian farming, when more than 66 per cent of farm businesses reported use of the internet to support their business, with this figure rising to 90 per cent for farms with operations valued in excess of $1m4.

The adoption of technology in modern-day biosecurity surveillance is therefore not surprising. One organisation that is bringing innovation to the sector is Animal Health Australia (AHA).

AHA operates within the framework of a not-for-profit company to facilitate and improve Australia’s animal healthy policy and practice in partnership with livestock industries, governments, and other stakeholders, in order to maintain a robust animal health system.

While Australia remains free of most serious animal diseases that affect other parts of the world, the impact of a serious outbreak would be devastating for both domestic and international trade.

AHA this year turned to a digital solution to help monitor animal health trends, aggregate warnings and alerts, and educate key stakeholders on livestock management.

The Animal Health Alerts application leverages technology created by Rowland to facilitate real-time communication between farmers, vets, government officers, and others involved with animal health.

Crucially, the platform aggregates information by geography, stakeholder, and/or animal type to allow trends to be monitored, while a level of farmer anonymity can still be realised to safeguard business operations.

According to AHA Manager of Disease Surveillance, Dr Ian Langstaff, the platform plays a vital role in safeguarding livestock health.

“Real-time sharing of geography-relevant animal health alerts has a powerful capacity to build a collective intelligence about livestock in a region.

“In the event of a disease outbreak, this intelligence increases the overall ability to detect at least one case, and consequently shorten the time for detection to occur,” Dr Langstaff said.

The Animal Health Alerts platform is currently under trial in Victoria, with a national rollout anticipated in 2014.

1 National Farmers’ Federation, 5 March 2012
2 Animal Health Australia research
3 Sydney Morning Herald article, 27 May 2013
4 Use of the Internet on Farms, Australia, 2007-08