Technology is not the magic bullet for flood-ravaged and drought-affected farms, but an expert says it can be a good tool to help prepare farmers for tough times.
Professor Craig Baillie, director of the University of Southern Queensland’s Center for Agricultural Engineering, said employing savvy practices allowed farmers to make more money in the good years, to help offset the burden of the hadrer, leaner years.
He was excited about the future of agricultural technology and how it could help things happen at the right time, every time; something he calls the ‘holy grail’ for farmers.
“But there’s a reality here as well. We operate in a highly variable climate and tech is not a silver bullet,” he said.
Mr. Baillie, also the deputy executive director of the Institute for Advanced Engineering and Space Sciences, said future farms won’t look much different, but there would be a lot of tech underpinning it to ensure things happen seamlessly.
“The evolution of precision agriculture is automation,” he said.
“But I want to stress that the main knowledge a farmer already has is invaluable and should not be discarded.
“What they should be looking for is ways that technology can better serve their ability to cope during yield downturn.”
He also advised farmers against rushing to buy agricultural tech as a quick fix for current problems they’re facing.
Southern Cross University’s director of strategic project Lorraine Gordon, who is also the director of Australia’s first Regenerative Agriculture Alliance and a beef farmer from Ebor in NSW, said technology was just another tool for farmers, and one that should be wielded carefully.
“You can never get away from the fundamentals of farming, and that is understanding the ecology of the soils and pastures and looking at the needs of livestock and crops, and that comes from observation, experience and education,” she said.
“We have to understand our soil, and once we get a hold of that, everything else will fall into place,” she said.
Ms. Gordon said if technology was used to produce more and more food at the expense of the health of Australia’s soil and environment, then the industry was headed for big trouble in the long term.
“We’ve been using European farming techniques since forever and at some stage it’s time to wake up and realize this isn’t sustainable. Australia is not Europe, we do not have the same soil bases, this country cannot handle it,” she said.
Ms. Gordon said if there continued to be such a heavy focus on technology and using it to produce more with less, then the ball would get dropped on important initiatives such as increasing carbon in soils and ecology management.
“Increasing carbon is king, because when it rains on soils high in carbon the moisture is retained in the soil instead of evaporating or running off,” she said.
She’s also concerned about farmers relying on technology 100 per cent of the time because if it failed and someone relied on it to tell them if there was water in a paddock, stock in a pasture, or to check on crops, “then they are doomed to fail”.
“You do hear a lot about agricultural tech, drones and precision ag and it’s all very well, but that’s not what’s going to solve the challenges around drought or the challenges around climate change. It’s just a support system that helps in decision making and make timing more effective, which can save costs.”
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