From little things big things grow

It’s really important in a sector like agriculture to be the sporting coach, that is, to keep the mind on the one percenters, Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre Economics and Business Analysis Manager, Dr Ross Kingwell told a CEDA WA audience.

“Because as the sporting coach will tell you, it’s often the one percenter who are the difference between a win and a loss,” he said.

“I want to illustrate this adage that from little things big things grow.

“Sometimes when it comes to transformation our gaze is affixed to the bold, the new, the novel, even the bizarre.

“We think that hitching our wagon to the new and the novel somehow will represent the best use of our time, our funds, our energy.”

Dr Kingwell said wheat is the main agricultural industry in WA and profitability of wheat production is determined by price, yield and cost of production.

“Let’s imagine you manage to lift your wheat price, just by one per cent, just avoiding some price downgrades,” he said.

“You lift your yield by one per cent through better timeliness of your sowing or slightly better weed control. You reduce your cost of production, just by one per cent, just by better negotiating some prices or avoiding wasting input use on some poor performing paddocks.

“So, what does that mean for your profit in my example – a 59 per cent increase.”

Dr Kingwell has asked farm management consultants what the difference is between better clients and average clients.

“The answer they invariably tell you is ‘not much’,” he said.

“The better clients tend to do a lot of things slightly better, but over several years, the accumulation of that slightly better becomes transformational. 

“You get some very rich businesses that are able to make substantial investments because they’re underpinned by the one percenter.

“So, businesses can be transformed by small changes.”

Pardoo Beef Corporation Chairman Bruce Cheung shared his story of transforming Pardoo Station in WA.

“What attracted me to WA was the project itself,” he said.

“When I first saw Pardoo Station it was just a typical small Pilbara farm, in the last 150 years of existence had been essentially doing the same small model; send them out, come back in a year, sort it out, sell it, hopefully the drought doesn’t come and then see what I make in money.

“I saw a little more to this station, underneath this station is an underground water source and in certain parts of the station, if you drill down, you get water and you don’t need to pump.

“That changed the economics of turning it around and in the last two and a half years we’ve ventured on a very rapid building program.”

Mr Cheung said carrying capacity at Pardoo Station has dramatically improved.

“When I first purchased Pardoo we were carrying around 5300 animals,” he said.

“Now on Pardoo there’s about 14,000 and when the next phase is done we should be carrying close to 40,000 animals.”

Mr Cheung said they hope neighbouring farms will benefit from the project.

“Through our project we hope to change the thinking of our neighbours, so we would be able to serve as a drought proofing station, a genetic outflow station and a joint marketing project that we will work together to transform Pilbara from a normal cattle industry into a pure-bred Wagyu industry,” he said.

“This is the outcome I want to draw at, that before I retire, we hope to accomplish 100,000 pure bred animals in Pilbara.

“And with that, we’ll be able to create 750 full time employment and a $1.8 billion industry out of Pilbara.”

AgriStart Managing Director and Co-founder, Dr Tash Ayers spoke about the current buzz around ag-tech.

“I would say drone is the most overhyped technologies at the moment, particularly in agriculture,” she said.

“Most of the farmers I talk to say ‘I do not want to see another pretty map because what do I do with that data?’.

“So, the real opportunities particularly around drones is going to be the first company that can turn those pretty maps into some useable decision-making tools.”

Dr Ayers said she would love to see more driverless tractors and trucks.

“I always get stressed around harvest and seeding time with the long hours that my friends and family are putting in,” she said.

“And as soon as the costs come down, this is one that you will see implemented very quickly.”

Dr Ayers said there are huge opportunities for ag-tech in the agriculture sector but collaboration with farmers is required.

“I think the key to all of this is making sure those technology companies are starting from the problem,” she said.

“They need to be solving a problem for the farmer and that needs to be how the technology is designed, and getting input from the farmers into the design of that technology from the start, doing trials with them, I feel like this is going to be the key to success.

“But also, farmers need support in using these new technologies, so collaboration at all levels is going to be critical here.”

CSIRO Agriculture and Food Science Director, Dr Michael Robertson shared insights on a new CSIRO developed app called Graincast.

“It’s an app that forecasts grain yields in farmer’s paddocks, and you might say ‘what’s so special about that, haven’t farmers been able to do that for quite some time now?’, and it’s true we have been at this game now for about 20 years,” he said.  

“Graincast is another step forward though in this technology, in that it almost provides an automated service so that farmers can walk out into their paddocks or in their homes and, through automated discovery of where they are, actually bring the relevant information together so that they can get a yield forecast relevant to their farm."

Dr Robertson said the app is an example of the potential value that ag-tech can unlock for the agricultural sector.

“You can do an awful lot around creating exciting and new opportunities in digital services through just innovating with existing information without needing to do any research and development,” he said.

“Bringing together existing information in new ways, with what we call innovation, is often all that’s required in these situations.”

Event presentations

Dr Ross Kingwell, Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC) PDF | MP3

Bruce Cheung, Pardoo Beef Corporation PDF | MP3

Dr Tash Ayers, AgriStart Pty Ltd PDF | MP3

Dr Michael Robertson, CSIRO MP3

Panel discussion MP3