If we want effective innovation, it’s well past time for us to get back in the paddock

07.07.22

By John Harvey, Managing Director, AgriFutures Australia

If the last few years have taught us anything it’s that face-to-face engagement is irreplaceable – and we’ve never needed it more than we do right now. Getting back out in the paddock and being physically in the room with people is a big priority, not just for me but the whole AgriFutures Australia team, and something we’ve really missed after the past two years of unprecedented times.

When I walk onto a rice farm and see the new irrigation system in action or how the new varieties are performing up close – it’s a type of understanding and a real connection that just can’t be explained or simulated online, no matter how many Zoom meetings and webinars you attend working from home.

But it’s not just us that are keen to get back to in-person meetings, in-paddock demonstrations, site visits, field trips, shed talks and even conferences. Thanks to research we conducted last year, we know that our levy payers and our other stakeholders, prefer face-to-face interactions and find it the most useful way to get the information they need.

Take the AgriFutures Producer Technology Update Program (PTUP) as an example of where up-front listening has ensured we are truly connected to the challenges and opportunities our industries are facing. Now up to round 3, the program allows producer groups to identify for themselves an opportunity for operational improvements in their businesses and then use technology – and grants of up to $20,000 – to address this and overcome barriers to adoption of agtech.

This ability to work directly with well-connected producer groups who know and understand their local producers’ needs including the key gaps in their knowledge, skills and experience that prevent them from implementing agtech innovation, has allowed us to successfully engage 56 producer groups and 11 agricultural high schools, directly impacting 2,700 producers nationally, across many industries and enterprise sizes.

Another example is our Tea Tree Program’s latest actions in Northern NSW following the devastating floods. Our agronomy partner Farmacist pivoted quickly from a planned traditional field day to responding to the industry’s immediate needs post-flood. This included tea tree extension officer Alice Moore delivering on ground workshops on how to use a drone to map crop health in hard to access areas and the importance of timely soil testing to enable crops to return to full production as quickly as possible.

It is so good to be out there with our boots on the ground, listening to and learning from our producers. There is no replacement for face-to-face interactions, and I am enjoying getting back into it.