Professor of Earth Observation Systems, University of Canberra
Managing Director, Agrecon Pty Ltd
• The importance of spatial and temporal information for crop forecasting, yield mapping and precision farming is emphasised. A case is advanced in favour of an integrated Internet based system incorporating satellite imagery to analyse data and address issues of national significance to Australian agriculture. Particular issues addressed include: more effective management of large enterprises; environmental consequences of increases in commodity production from marginal lands; raising yields by reducing within field variance in crop vigour and yield potential; alternatives to yield monitors for precision farming; strategic planning and risk management by peak industry bodies, marketing, trading and bulk handling authorities; risk management by rural landholders; more sophisticated risk rating systems to overcome re-insurance losses; environmental degradation consequences of unfettered clearing of native vegetation on private land.
• Conventional approaches to crop forecasting and yield mapping are reviewed. These systems are hampered by their inability to provide detailed information at a local scale or present reliable information regarding spatial variability at a range of resolutions. We contend that these problems can only be overcome by incorporating satellite imagery within an integrated spatial and temporal information system.
• The functionality, accuracy, reliability and value proposition of Agrecon’s generic MAPS systems (Monitoring, Assessment and Prediction Systems) and our Internet based FarmMAPS and CropMAPS is summarised. Preliminary descriptions are provided of the functionality of additional systems under development - EnviroMAPS, RiskMAPS, FireMAPS, GrazierMAPS, HydroMAPS and MarketInfoMAPS.
• Details of major new business partnerships with Agrecon are to be announced that will facilitate e-commerce delivery of premium content geospatial data, information, services and systems for national and international agricultural clients.
As with any business, stakeholders in Australian agriculture need better access to increasing amounts of useful, reliable, timely and cost effective information. Data used by landholders and corporate agribusiness is currently drawn from a variety of sources with different formats, record lengths, availability, currency, scale, accuracy and reliability. The spatial and temporal context in which disparate data is assembled, made queryable and delivered is particularly important for agriculture. Unless information from disparate sources is presented in an integrated, decision making context, managers and decision makers will continue to rely on experience, gut feelings and recourse to equally uninformed consultants and advisors.
There is a myriad of potential applications for an integrated geospatial and temporal information systems approach. These ranging between off-farm financial, insurance and commodity price risk management, to on-farm assessment and response to yield variability through precision & prescription farming.
A Spatial and Temporal Perspective on Problems Facing Australian Agriculture
• Agrecon contends that a spatial and temporal approach is essential to understand and identify solutions to a range of major problems confronting Australian agriculture today.
• Australian agriculture is undergoing enormous change with major industry sectors feeling the full brunt of lower commodity prices, deregulation, variable climatic conditions and a range changing consumer preferences. It is inevitable that producers will continue to leave rural industry. Circumstances are now dictating that Australia’s rural enterprises need to cost effectively manage their resources in the face of rising labour and production costs, an ageing rural population, declines in skilled workforce and land stewardship ideals. The value of conventional approaches to field work based on repetitive visits to a handful of generally unrepresentative sites must be questioned. A spatial and temporal perspective offers advantages through greater economies of scale, enables new, unconventional attitudes, concepts and approaches to be developed, tested, implemented and monitored.
• In the last 5 years, politicians have been forced to reaffirm the geospatial significance of rural and regional constituencies at the ballot box and in policy formulation.
• Rising expectations of increases in the value and output of agricultural commodities has not seen corresponding increases in yields commensurate with the rising costs of research into new varieties. The promising returns expected from GMOs is already drawing substantial public opposition. Over the last two decades, the major source of increased production in Australian agriculture has come from increased areas, not increased yields, mainly from marginal lands where production uncertainty and the risk of environmental degradation is highest. The growing impacts of these trends on enterprise profitability and national domestic production should be obvious.
• Marketing, trading and bulk handling enterprises are unable to formulate and implement appropriate risk management strategies (hedging production volume, crop quality, labour requirements, commodity price and currency exchange differentials) or plan infrastructure investments (rail, roads, silos, warehouses, port facilities etc) without a strategic understanding of spatial and temporal dimensions of commodity supply and demand. Recent rationalisation and financial strife amongst bulk handling authorities is not surprising and is likely to continue.
• How can individual landholders survive or take advantage of increasing deregulation and competition within a global economy where commodities are increasingly grown against pre-plant contracts? Many shareholders in Australia’s hitherto monopolistic commodity handling authorities reportedly continue to prefer the safety and security of anti-competitive pool based marketing, single desk arrangements and emergency relief payments for damage and loss of income incurred by natural hazards. There are greater risks, but also greater returns on offer to innovative and entrepreneurial landholders willing to capitalise on timely access to spatial and temporal information on crop production and rest of season prospects.
• Significant rural losses have been incurred by foreign re-insurance companies over the last decade. It is simply conjecture to blame such losses on the increased magnitude and incidence of extreme events caused by climatic change. Too many unproductive parties are involved in the insurance chain – brokers, underwriting agents, insurance companies, re-insurance brokers, reinsurance companies - all too bent on protecting slim margins to invest in proper data collection and analysis systems to quantify their risk. It is ironic that those involved in buying & selling risk are those who appear to have no understanding of the two primary elements of insurance risk; the spatial distribution of clients and the spatial and temporal distribution of insurable events. Using irrelevant administrative boundaries as a geographic unit to reference claims histories does nothing to increase geospatial and temporal understanding of the physical basis of risk. The quantum and distribution of previous claims is not a good indication of future damage potential where new lands are being brought into production. Current investigations into a national multi-peril crop insurance scheme and renewed calls for a nation wide Natural Hazards Insurance Scheme appear overly concentrated on economic viability without a clear understanding of differences in the spatial and temporal distribution of contributors and claimants let alone the probability characteristics of extreme events.
• Ongoing debates over the reality, magnitude and significance of climate change originate from untested prognoses generated by physical models at global and continental scales. Landholders require tools enabling them to understand short, medium and long term climatic variability and risk and its effects on their enterprise. Climate change is inevitable, the greatest challenge will be to develop and implement systems that allow landholders to identify areas of greatest potential productivity and lowest risk as priority areas for increased or intensified agricultural development.
• Calls for government support of major environmental initiatives such as Landcare, the Natural Heritage Trust and the National Dryland Salinity Program by the same parties that are vehemently opposed to statutory restrictions on clearing native vegetation on private land suggest a cynical disregard or lack of understanding that you can’t have one without the other. Dryland salinity is Australia’s major form of environmental degradation and is largely due to drastic alterations in the hydrologic cycle. The heart of the problem lies in unfettered clearing of woodlands and forests from upland recharge areas resulting in raised water tables and increased risk of salinity in lowland discharge areas of the landscape. The geospatial dynamics of Landcare and land clearing are interlinked.
• Increased yields are readily attainable by understanding, managing and reducing within field variability. There is an increasing interest in a range of alternative approaches to precision farming. However, equipment costs, time pressures, other operational and processing difficulties put machine based initiatives beyond the reach of many producers, especially where multiple units and/or several contractors are required. Although some industries such as cotton are seeing a rapid uptake in a range of precision farming initiatives, the technology is at a relatively early stage with costs generally prohibitive to many. In addition to offering a yield monitor data transcription service, Agrecon uses data from yield monitors to calibrate and check on the accuracy of yield maps and yield estimates generated from satellite imagery at a low per hectare cost several months before harvest, and to segregate high and low protein areas just prior to harvest.
• Product segregation and traceback are complementary geospatial elements of a drive towards quality and income maximisation from niche markets.
The Data Divide
The last decade has seen State and Federal government agencies seeking to bring under the one umbrella, large amounts of spatial data currently held by many separate organisations. Distrust between different levels of government, the short term horizons of political masters and the effect of annual budget constraints on program and funding continuity within bureaucracies will continue to frustrate these initiatives. Large amounts of commercially sensitive proprietary spatial information will always continue to reside in private and corporate hands.
Agrecon has responded to resulting market opportunities by developing comprehensive, integrated spatial and temporal information systems for low cost and timely access by commercial clients throughout Australia. We have a moral and ethical responsibility, reinforced by a commercial interest in servicing landholder clients, not to divulge information to third parties that could be linked to individual enterprises, something that a range of other government service providers find difficult under FOI laws.
Agrecon is a national leader in research, development and commercial deployment of spatial and temporal information products, systems and services for mapping, monitoring and practical management of land and water resources at a hierarchy of scales from site, field and farm up to international level. We provide a range of customised and value added products and consultancy services to industries using spatial information, with particular emphasis on satellite imagery and collateral biophysical data for agricultural users.
Agrecon is affiliated with, but not a controlled entity of, the University of Canberra. A staff of 20 is supported entirely from commercial income. We have enjoyed a growth rate of more than 40% p.a. during the last 3 years, having invested more than $10 million in hardware, software and development costs over that period. A new state of the art, high performance central computing facility for Internet access by clients, to products and services, has now been installed to facilitate e-commerce access to these spatial information systems.
Agrecon has achieved national and international recognition as one of Australia’s leading innovative SMEs through a $1.2 million Core R&D Start Grant from AusIndustry in 1999 for crop forecasting. We are an invited member of the Australian Technology Showcase and the proud winner in June 2000 of the Australian Technology Award out of all small businesses employing fewer than 50 staff.
Satellite Imagery and Other Raw Data Products
Agrecon uses a variety of satellites with different spatial, spectral and revisit characteristics as a mapping base to which other spatial and temporal data can be registered. Agrecon is accredited by AUSLIG, SPOT, RADARSAT and other satellite data providers as a leading distributor and value adder of Landsat, SPOT, Radarsat and other satellite imagery. We are one of only two Australian distributor’s of high resolution Ikonos satellite imagery with 1 metre black and white and 4 metre colour resolution, obtainable for anywhere in the world within a 2 to 3 day revisit cycle. For details of spatial and temporal raw data products and prices visit the One Stop Shop on our web site (www.agrecon.canberra.edu.au).
Agrecon uses satellite imagery to map, monitor and predict yield potential and manage natural resources at a range of scales. Satellite imagery records spectral energy response from the vegetated land surface. Plants are instruments that integrate the combined impact of recent climatic inputs, soil fertility and tilth, predators and management. Reflected and emitted energy is therefore highly correlated with, and a reliable surrogate for, vigour, biomass and yield potential. An empirical approach to mapping and predicting yield variability and regional crop forecasting is more reliable, more accurate and better able to depict temporal and spatial variability than conventional approaches.
Image Based Spatial and Temporal Information Systems
Most stakeholders in agriculture are familiar with data mining and decision support systems, two computer based tools for accessing raw data and assisting decision makers. Data mining automates storage and retrieval without integrating raw data in an assessment or decision making context. Decision support systems use deterministic models to advocate solutions, place a low priority on access by users to raw data and leave little room for expertise, wisdom and judgement as critical ingredients in the formulation of appropriate management strategies.
Agrecon’s approach to yield mapping, yield estimation, crop forecasting and risk assessment is based on development and deployment of empirical models expressing relationships between satellite image spectral response and other collateral spatial and temporal data (such as climatic, agronomic, production and delivery histories). We use precision geocoded satellite imagery as the base to which all other data, analyses, value added products and forecasts are registered. Our objective is to facilitate information extraction, analysis and forecasting at any user selectable level within a geographic and temporal hierarchy, from a single location and time through to long term trends at continental and international scales.
Conventional Approaches to Crop Forecasting
Crop forecasting to date has been based mainly on a combination of climate based forecasting, physical modelling of the plant-soil interface, and subjective or anecdotal assessments. Inherent assumptions and generalisations when modelling complex interactions means that the climate based forecasting looks at only one set of parameters affecting crop yields. Physical modelling is practical and reliable only at a site specific scale. All three approaches are unable to detect or account for significant spatial variations in soil type and fertility, micro and meso climates, water logging, weed and pest infestation and impact of management practices on crop yields and long term sustainable production at all scales from National, State and Regional to Catchment, district, farm and field levels.
Agrecon’s MAPS Systems
Agrecon’s approach to crop forecasting, yield estimation and mapping and risk assessment is embodied in its Monitoring, Assessment and Prediction Systems (MAPS). These integrated systems provide a unique approach to accessing a diverse range of public and corporate information across large areas in comparable data quality standards, map projections, datums, scales, time frames and time steps. It is the first time that such a diverse range of data has been integrated into a cost effective, user friendly form by a single commercial custodian for client access via the Internet.
The generic MAPS database currently comprises a national geolinked coverage of historic climatic, satellite imagery, crop data and crop forecasts, with a range of other land management information continually being added. Any other spatial and temporal data held by clients can be added, and accessed via a protected, secure log-on system. Users of MAPS can Monitor variations in daily environmental conditions and seasonal production through a sophisticated querying system, Assess changes and trends for impact on crop yield and environmental status during other periods and Predict what will happen during the coming season. Data, imagery, data querying and analysis tools, optional map, chart or table outputs at user selectable scales, time steps and time frames are integrated into a powerful management and decision support System.
MAPS is not available to clients as a standalone software and database package to be installed on a PC or local network, but as a subscription service accessed over the Internet. This eliminates the costs, resources and hassles to clients of specialised software licenses and the storage and management requirements of large, complex and frequently updated data sets. Data casting via communications satellites will be used to link users to Agrecon’s web server by the end of 2001, bypassing capacity problems on the existing Internet system.
Each subscriber is assigned a password linked to a profile of access, to data reflecting the user’s level of permission and guaranteeing transactional security. Data can include generic information held by Agrecon or proprietary data provided by the client. Different users from the same organisation can be accorded different access rights.
Select Area and Time of Interest (AOI & TOI):
Users select their country of interest and spatial extent relevant to the industry for which the user has subscribed. Integrated map, imagery and text based options enable users to query raw data and undertake statistical analyses for pre-defined point locations (climate stations, silos, gins, mills, abattoirs, river gauges), pre-defined areas (eg National, state, client specific regions, catchments, LGA, SLA; other administrative and physical boundaries can be added), user-defined point locations down to every 1 km2 (daily satellite imagery and derived classifications, interpolated climatic and flood data), and user-defined areas (point with radius, rectangle, polygon). Time periods include weekly, decadal (10 day), fortnightly, monthly, annual and long term averages with differences between user nominated periods shown in relative or absolute terms.
Additional boundary layers can be customized and data added at any level within the regional hierarchy for client specific data querying. This includes data held at the farm level, enabling farm managers to retrieve information for their farm(s) for every field, and access forecasts of yield and production generated from high resolution imagery.
Select (Biophysical or Socio-Economic) Parameters and Statistical Analyses:
Information available to users depends on the system to which they have subscribed. Raw biophysical and socio-economic data values are stored at the lowest level of resolution and aggregated up to higher levels. Some data is stored at individual station level (including climate stations, silos etc) and interpolated for compatibility with other data stored at SLA level.
Data type to be extracted is selected from a range of information tabs along with the forms of statistical analysis required. It is helpful to differentiate between the Supply vs Rural Demand side of Crop Forecasting. In its current form, MAPS focuses on processed raw and predictive data in relation to biophysical and socio-economic inputs on the supply or crop production side. The generic MAPS data base includes more than 100 years of historical daily climatic data (including rainfall, min/max/average temperature, number of frost days, evaporation, vapour pressure, and radiation) from more than 4600 stations, supplemented with growing degree days, chilling days and soil moisture drawn down calculations according to user-defined crop threshold values. These are spatially and temporally interpolated and updated every 10 days. Additional data sets include crop and non crop (Grazing) production and delivery histories, daily low resolution satellite spectral response statistics composited into fortnightly time steps to eliminate cloud interference, derived measures of plant vigour, biomass and yield potential for a range of crops at each level in a spatial hierarchy of geographic units.
Agrecon will be incorporating additional data sets during 2001 on deliveries, stocks, consumption and market prices of commodities along with appropriate query functionality to facilitate the demand side of crop forecasting within the CropMAPS system. We will also be generating expert written commentaries and systematic prognoses as a Seasonal Assessment (a subjective crop forecasting overview) Service for clients not wishing to subscribe to the data side of the CropMAPS system and to provide client specific consequential logistical, tactical and strategic assessments and advice.
Select Required Output Format(s):
Interactive mapping functionality enables the results of each query to be portrayed for each region across Australia at user selectable levels of resolution. Users can overlay this with their selection of spatial reference information – eg. towns, roads, railways, silos, climate stations, rivers, terrain, soils, land use, vegetation and climate zones - for orientation and interpretation. A graphing module permits results of queries to be displayed as line, bar or pie charts for comparison of different factors, areas or time frames and then customised using detailed editing tools. Tabular output can be modified by hiding rows and columns, and saved to EXCEL for further analysis. All output types can be printed or saved in digital form for incorporation into quality presentations and reports.
FarmMAPS Now Available FREE via Agrecon’s Web Site
In Agrecon’s experience, very few Australian landholders have access to an accurate map of their farm at scales appropriate for property planning. Topographic maps are grossly out of date and inadequate in terms of detail, level of generalisation and symbolisation. Aerial photography is generally at least five years out of date and is difficult and expensive to mosaic because of the central perspective projection of individual prints.
By using a free map/imagery interface on Agrecon’s web site, rural landholders and other clients can now:
• display, pan and zoom in on high resolution Landsat imagery (current coverage for the cotton industry will be extended by July to a national Year 2000 coverage and repeated in August/September each year thereafter as a reference set) for land use change assessment and to facilitate users to locate and reference their area of interest in full resolution. Using advanced image and map compression techniques, raw imagery is displayable in split screen geolinked mode with a raster presentation of the applicable scanned topographic map. This helps to facilitate rapid identification of latitude and longitude co-ordinates by moving the cursor to specify the location and extent of any area of interest at any scale and enable these co-ordinates to be transmitted back to Agrecon.
• identify and submit accurate geographic co-ordinates without the need for field based GPS to map individual holdings.
• specify area of interest through on screen digitisation of point, line or polygon features
• order a range of raw and value added YieldMAPS and AgriPrecise products - including raw imagery, farm maps, yield maps and yield estimates without first providing a sketch map of their holding.
Landholders will soon be able to submit, store, retrieve and download geolinked farm records, field observations, management information and climatic histories for any point, field, or farm in a standard format without the worry of purchasing, maintaining and learning to use special farm management software.
FarmMAPS facilitates the task of industry wide pre-harvest crop and product segregation, registration and recording. Examples include; separating GMOs from Organics from Conventional crops; ensuring appropriate buffer zones are retained between neighbours, areas of production and areas subject to drift from aerial spraying; identifying areas where premiums from high protein levels are likely.
Downloadable software utilities are being developed to overcome shortcomings inherent in most farm mapping packages currently in use throughout Australia and to facilitate localised image processing, mapping and GIS data analysis on user’s PCs.
A prototype of this system was officially launched by the Honourable Tim Fisher to a select industry group in October 2000 as Agrecon’s Crop Forecasting System (CFS). After more than three years of development and industry feedback, this system will be available to subscribers via the Internet from March 2001. The information available through CropMAPS includes daily updates of climatic data from 4500 stations across the country, low resolution satellite imagery converted to crop health indices and historical crop production data for any regional unit within a multi-level spatial hierarchy ranging between local government areas and the nation. There is optional access to objective yield forecasts produced by Agrecon’s crop yield models and area estimates that will allow production levels to be predicted for any geographical area of interest within Australia, for a range of crops, every fortnight, from the start of each season to when harvest begins. Daily soil moisture draw down modelling functionality has recently been added so that Agrecon’s crop yield forecasts for any area can be further validated by reference to soil moisture. An additional climatic probability function based on SOI phase is currently being added to increase the reliability of forecasts made during the growing season.
CropMAPS provides invaluable information for landholders, input suppliers, produce handlers, commodity traders, insurance, financial and government agencies wishing to know where and how much of each crop is being produced. CropMAPS is also being extended over the next 12 months to monitor overseas competitors.
A ready reckoner facility is currently being added to the front of CropMAPS. This will provide users with a prognosis of likely end of season outcomes based on automated analysis of the phase and pattern of SOI during the last 6 months, identification of the ten (10) most comparable periods during the same season during the last 100 years and a summary of climatic inputs and production outcomes for these 10 periods and the ensuing six months after each period.
Accuracy, Reliability and Value Proposition of MAPS Products and Services
Yield estimates and crop forecasting errors vary with crop type, stage of maturity during the season and the geographic area of interest. National grains and cotton forecast errors average less than 15% and 5% respectively, early in the season, falling to around 1% and 2% respectively just before harvest. Seventy five percent of field based yield estimates are currently within 10% of actuals, an error rate twice as good as collaborating farm-based agronomists were able to demonstrate on a long term basis. The interactive capability of FarmMAPS enables landholders to transmit field based observations to Agrecon to calibrate yield estimation algorithms and further reduce estimation errors for individual fields by up to an order of magnitude.
Agrecon now offers landholders and other stakeholders throughout Australia, farm & field based yield estimates and yield maps at a cost of $1.50 per hectare. Annual subscriptions to CropMAPS range upwards from $275 p.a. and $450 p.a. per LGA without and with crop forecasts respectively.
Other MAPS Systems
Agrecon is developing a variety of other MAPS systems for a range of different requirements, applications, clients, scales and levels of detail. Since all MAPS systems are geolinked, authorized users are able to move between systems to facilitate easy access to different information for a particular area of interest at different scales.
By mid 2001, the third of our Internet based MAPS systems will enable users to select and monitor the state of the environment, production history and likely trends in sustainability, over any period, for any area one square kilometre in size or larger within Australia. An interpolation grid of one square kilometre was chosen to match the spatial resolution of NOAA satellite imagery acquired on a daily basis since 1991 (8 square kilometres between 1981 and 1991) and composited to 14 day mosaics to remove cloud and reduce data volume.
Daily, monthly and long term climatic and other biophysical parameters will be interpolated to individual cells with a 1 square km national grid to enable climatic histories over more than 100 years to be generated for any location in Australia.
Spatial resolution will gradually be improved for terrain-related parameters with the addition of higher quality digital terrain data, more detailed satellite imagery and better spatial interpolation and modelling techniques.
Additional reference maps, such as climate/habitat ranges of endangered species and conservation/sensitive areas, will be added to the already extensive set of reference map covers with national extent within the MAPS system.
Of particular interest are changes in climatic history, the type and intensity of land use and land cover, productive capacity and various forms of land degradation (including fire, overgrazing, salinity and soil erosion) that give rise to unseasonal variations in spectral response. EnviroMAPS will be a valuable tool to satisfy the increasing demand for vegetation monitoring and state of the environment reporting by Local and State Government and other land managers.
Will enable a wide range of information relating to natural hazards to be queried at a range of scales from every 1 km2, every individual property or larger areas within Australia. Although users will be able to access raw data, the primary objective of RiskMAPS is to provide users with objective probability estimates regarding the likelihood and magnitude of an extreme event (flood, frost and hail initially; followed later by bushfire, wind, intense rainfall, earthquake and landslide) and to assist in rating insurance and other forms of risk across Australia. Probability estimates will be expressed as percentiles, deciles, long term averages and the percentage chance that a particular event with specified magnitude and duration will be encountered within a specified time frame at a particular locality. Claims histories will be used to develop risk rating factors for both proportional loss and loss cost insurance rating purposes. Long term developments will include the incorporation of various climatic change scenarios.
Will provide regularly updated information on pasture biomass and health for every square kilometre of pasture and rangelands across Australia as measured from satellite imagery. Historical stocking rates, stock prices, land systems and climatic data will be used to develop empirical models to monitor carrying capacity and predict forthcoming seasonal conditions using correlations with previous periods exhibiting similar SOI temporal patterns.
Agrecon is in the planning phase of three other systems. FireMAPS will provide fortnightly information on biomass, fuel loading and moisture status of woodland/forests and open grassland areas for areas of 1 square kilometre or larger. Comparisons with climatic station data will be facilitated along with daily weather data, queryable weather forecasts and maps of fire danger ratings. A “Fire Tracker” component will incorporate daily satellite imagery measuring thermal intensity showing the location and extent of active fires with user selectable overlays of land use, roads, 4WD tracks, locked gates, watering points etc. HydroMAPS will generate runoff estimates by catchment and facilitate comparison with and analysis of daily flows at individual gauging stations, monitoring of storage levels, water allocations water licences, transfers and seasonal irrigation activity by catchment or reach. MarketInfoMAPS will facilitate the analysis of aged census, consumer, labour and other socio-economic data for strategic planning of businesses focusing on development of natural resources.
Strategic Partnerships within the Agricultural, Spatial and Information Technology Industry
A variety of stakeholders must play their part in the development of a healthy, viable and flourishing spatial information industry that will benefit Australian agriculture.
Australian agriculture is advantaged by political and economic settings, our support of free trade, our opposition to protectionism. The level playing field is a strong incentive for rapid adoption of new technologies.
Government has a responsibility to make available, at the marginal cost of transfer, all public funded spatial and temporal information. A strong recommendation in this vein has been advanced by the Spatial Information Industry Action Agenda with regard to fundamental data sets. Australia’s political and economic settings and our support through WTO talks for a level playing field provide greater incentives for rapid adoption by rural landholders have shown a historical predisposition towards the adoption of new innovations.
In his recent Innovation Statement “Backing Australia’s Ability”, the Prime Minister included specific initiatives to encourage SMEs as a vital ingredient in the dynamics of innovation. Australia must address its poor late 20th century track record in innovation and technology transfer. We need a strong network of land based professionals and extension personnel throughout regional Australia. Commitment to negotiating commercial licensing and collaborative agreements so that technology actually occurs has been poor. Innovation is not just about good science or good ideas.
The recent formation and incorporation of the Australian Spatial Industry Business Association (ASIBA) will ensure a strong ongoing role for SMEs within the spatial information industry, to the benefit of Australian agriculture.
A lot of literature has been written about the use of satellite imagery for crop yield estimation. Satellite based monitoring of agricultural resources has been going on now for more than 30 years. A global review by Agrecon of crop forecasting activity has revealed that no other country has developed such a sophisticated, comprehensive, integrated, privately funded and publicly available spatial and temporal system for agriculture. Agrecon is one of the few organisations in the world that provides geospatial products and services to rural landholders on a comprehensive, nationwide basis via e-commerce.
Corporate (often foreign owned) agribusiness are slow to realise that they cannot lock up relevant new information technologies for their own personal gain. Aspirations for exclusive rights are often at odds with national interests.
Banks, insurance companies and investors with concerns about financial exposure and risk are now able to evaluate that risk and assess likely outcomes at any scale, any level of detail, at any time and for any enterprise type across Australia, and shortly in overseas countries.
Australian landholders and other stakeholders in agriculture have a unique opportunity to monitor and predict earlier, in more detail and more accurately, the productive potential of their own domestic enterprises as well as those of their international competitors.
As a leading value added provider of premium geospatial content to Australian agriculture, Agrecon recognises that no one organisation holds all the cards. Accordingly, we have worked very hard to forge strategic partnerships and alliances with a wide range of data providers, input suppliers and major media, financial, marketing, information technology and telecommunications players within Australian agriculture.
As part of its oral presentation, Agrecon will for the first time publicly announce details regarding the identity of and relationship with these business partners.
I encourage delegates to take advantage of the opportunities on offer to Australian agriculture arising from a growing spatial information industry.