The HQ Tech Tank Food event dove into the exploration of the future of food and discussed some of the main trends that will be driving the industry. For this event, we had the pleasure of hosting three industry experts: Emma Weston (CEO & Co-Founder of AgriDigital), Harvey Gaynor (CEO at Paraway Pastoral Company) and Andrea Koch (Principal at Andrea Koch Agtech).
In this blog, we intend to provide valuable key insights from the speakers on the use of data and tracking to improve food production and enhance communication between the different parts of the supply chain, in addition to touching on the use of data to reduce food waste at the end of the food life cycle.
Data and tracking in the food industry
In the food industry, there is a shift in how data tracking is used. Rather than collecting a huge conglomerate of data for the sake of having the data, our speakers emphasised that data tracking and its technologies are used instead to solve the individual problems along the food production chain. Thus, we will be taking an in-depth analysis of each of the stages in the production of food, from the initial farming stage, helping to steer away from the use of pesticide and harmful chemicals to the production stage of food and the distribution in the supply chain to the last stage in attempting to reduce consumer food waste.
Soil and crops management
One venue where data is proving to be of great help is soil mapping. Through collecting satellite and radiometric data, combined with innovative algorithms to process this data, Andrea explained that they were able to create 3D data maps of the soil which then can be used to monitor and manage the soil without the need for conventional and expensive methods that require digging into the earth to collect samples which then need to be sent to the lab for testing
Another venue where data technologies are making a difference In farming is reducing the use of harmful chemicals. One innovative technology that came through the discussion is the ability to use machine imaging (either RGB or hyperspectral imaging) to distinguish between the different degrees of green of plants, this is used, for example, to identify weeds in crops. Consequently, the machinery which utilises imaging sensors will identify the weed and utilise the appropriate herbicide rather than spraying the entire crop field.
Supply chain management - Data & Meat
The supply chain is a crucial stage in the food lifecycle and Emma highlighted the importance of moving away from the linearity of data sharing in the supply chain. Typically, in the supply chain, information and data are passed one step backwards and forwards between suppliers and the sales channel in regards to the products, however, Emma emphasised the importance of having data be relayed back to the producers for them to understand what can be further improved in production.
This was further emphasised by Harvey who has extensive experience in the pastoral industry, explaining that data needs to be passed back to producers to optimise their production. Harvey explained that data tracking is essential in the pastoral industry from the very beginning, starting with grass production to the management of livestock to the final processing of meats. The production of grass requires data tracking of soil moisture, the monitoring of weather, water and plant growth through the use of drones and satellites (source). The tagging of livestock through electronic ID is used to track and record the location of livestock. This is all done in an automated fashion without human intervention (source). The data collected would aid in knowing when to breed, understanding how they perform in the field and how well it will sell when produced as meat in the supply chain.
Dealing with Food Waste
Waste is an ongoing and growing predicament in the food industry and viable solutions are needed to prevent their increasing contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and its overall negative impact on the environment.
The speakers touched on the definition of food waste. Harvey explained that “food waste” is not simply the food that is thrown out in the consumers’ bin, but it includes all the resources that were spent to produce and deliver that food, including electrical power and water. Reducing food waste improves sustainability in all stages of the food supply chain. Harvey also provided valuable insights about already established technological solutions in the pastoral industry where sensors are able to detect any problems in livestock, whether it be malnutrition or diseases, allowing the producer to solve the problem before the livestock are slaughtered.
The speakers also discussed and emphasised that visibility is a problem with modern society. As we are all consumers, we do not consider the efforts of the production of food, nor do we witness the amount of waste we produce ($20b AUD worth of food per annum in Australia alone). There is an inherent habit within us where we simply over-purchase. Although there has been increased awareness of waste, as consumers we assume the system will resolve itself.A fundamental and sustainable change needs to take place where data can play a major role. A few solutions that could aid consumers in better visualising their food includes smart fridges which tracks the expiry dates of the products and allow consumers to reduce over consumption. Similarly, smart bins can utilise sensors that measure the amount of waste collected and identify the type of waste (source). As this technology becomes more refined and accessible for consumers in the future, it is then that we can improve household food wastage.
Advice to businesses: Emerging Agtech
To conclude the event, our speakers each provided key pieces of advice to any business on how they can benefit from the emerging industry of Agriculture technology.
Harvey: “Get to understand the farmers and producers and their needs”
• Harvey emphasised that although consumer needs are important, it is imperative that businesses also takes the time to understand the needs and challenges of the producers
Andrea: “Don’t underestimate the sophistication of farming systems”
• Andrea emphasised that all farmers are operating complex systems. Therefore, when companies want to bring in a new piece of tech, they need to realise and understand what production system they're operating in
Emma: “. . . Agtech is an early-stage industry and should be characterised by collaboration, not competition”.
• Emma stressed that in the world of Agtech, there is value for everyone. All businesses including startups, incumbents and large companies should form deep partnerships and share resources in coming up with sustainable solutions. Reach out globally and bring Australian Agtech to the world and vice versa
→ Data and tracking has become a key trend in providing solutions in the food industry from all stages including the pre-production, the supply chain and the post-production of food
→ Emerging and established data technologies including imaging and other sensors have allowed farmers to reduce the use of harmful chemicals in farming and to monitor soil
→ In the supply chain, there is a need for more open data sharing for the producers to understand the life cycle of the food they produce and thus optimise their own production processes
→ Food waste includes the waste of energy and resources in making the products, and to prevent the waste of food in both pre-and post-production, consumers should better understand and visualise the effects of over-purchasing and begin to move to smarter household technologies to visualise their wastage
Disclaimer: The information provided in the webinar and this blog is strictly for educational purposes to explain government incentives and startups, and it does not constitute investment, accounting, financial, legal or tax advice. It has been prepared without taking into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on any information you should consider the appropriateness of the information having regard to your objectives, financial situation and needs.