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Big data: big opportunities for agriculture

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Delegates at the 2016 ABARES Outlook conference in Canberra have heard about the opportunities for the agriculture sector presented by 'big data' and digital technologies.

Speaking on the potential of transform agribusiness, Philip Evans of the Boston Consulting Group said it was up to businesses to take advantage of technology available to them. 

"The world is becoming its own map: that is to say, we acquiring the ability to map all the relevant data with extraordinary granularity, interpret it, and deliver that knowledge back into the world at precisely the point where it is of greatest use," Mr Evans said.

"Every metre of land, every animal, every plant, becomes the object of customised and intelligent management. The technology is already here; what we need is institutions and management practices able to take advantage of it."

Mick Keogh of the Australian Farm Institute, said big data had the potential to revolutionise decision-making in Australian agricultural businesses, through the adoption of digital agriculture.

"The transition of agriculture from a skills-based industry to an information-based industry is well underway, with some segments -such as the broiler industry -already well down the track in developing information-based management systems," Mr Keogh said.

"Other segments are heading in the same direction, and it is likely that over the next decade we will see widespread adoption of a range of different digital technologies and platforms in Australian agriculture."

Dr Sue Barrell of the Bureau of Meteorology said the growth in data volumes and diversity, in parellel with improvements in supercomputing capability and scientific know-how, have facilitated more detailed, timely, and accurate climate analysis and forecasting.

"Meteorology has occupied the 'big data' space since long before it became a buzz word, integrating and assimilating complex data, from multiple and diverse sensors, platforms, time scales, resolutions, dimensions and domains, and projecting future environmental states and trends," Dr Barrell said.

"We have the potential for greater 'environment intelligence' than ever. However, as sensors and data become increasingly abundant and accessible, we must consider how big is too big, and look at ways to extract the greatest value for farmers from data at the lowest cost."

Considering the opportunities presented by big data for the meat and livestock industries, Dr Alex Ball of Meat & Livestock Australia said the value of big data hinged on the ability to harness it in meaningful ways to inform big decisions.

"Data is increasingly complex, complicated and volumetric -and yet data has little inherent value. It is only our ability to capture relevant data, analyse and interpret it, and integrate it into business decision-making that allows agricultural business to create value from it," Dr Ball said.

"In the meat and livestock sector, effectively harnessing big data will require engagement and data-sharing across the entire value chain, and identifying how to disseminate the value of decisions."

The ABARES Outlook conference is Australia's premier information and networking forum for public and private sector decision-makers in the agriculture sector. The conference is being held 1-2 March in Canberra. 

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