New frontiers: Agricultural sector sets sights on space technologies

Agriculture is the next frontier for space tech, with billion-dollar opportunities to super-charge technology adoption for farmers, fishers and foresters over the next five to ten years.        

According to a new report by AgriFutures Australia, commissioned to give producers awareness of the depth and breadth of available space technologies, the potential uses and insights into what is coming over the next decade. 

The Australian National University (ANU) study, Space-based technologies, opportunities for the rural sector, found that improvements to geo-location alone could benefit agriculture by $2.2 billion over a 30-year period, and satellite connectivity can add $15.6 billion to gross value of production across agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries each year. 

While these are big numbers, space technologies are already making their mark.

Producers are using satellite imaging, low bandwidth sensors, GPS tracking, autosteer, paddock level imagery and weather forecasting for better decision making.  

For most producers, many of these turn-key technologies rely on space and we don’t even realize it.   

AgriFutures Australia Senior Manager, Rural Futures, Jennifer Medway said space has traditionally been the realm of sectors like mining and defense and we are only on the cusp of unlocking opportunities for the rural sector.  

“It’s exciting. The farmer of the future will have space technology fully integrated into their everyday production systems and decision making.” 

“For instance, dashboards will enable farmers to remotely manage manual processes, and interoperable data systems will radically shift the way on-farm decisions are made.” 

“All this is made possible through space technology, which has the potential to revolutionize the working day of tomorrow’s farmers,” Ms Medway said. 

Initiatives such as AgriFutures’ evokeAG is connecting farmers, tech developers, researchers and even the Australian Space Agency, to accelerate the development of space technologies for agriculture, and in turn, introducing new ways of doing things. 

The SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre is investing in a $245m research program in telecommunications, satellite systems, Earth observation and remote sensing analytics. 

The Australian Space Agency has a mandate to triple the domestic space industry by 2030. 

“Agriculture’s time is now. To stay competitive and continue to up the ante on increasing productivity and sustainability, we need to look to fixes ‘outside the square’. Space technology is one of those fixes,” Ms Medway said.  

Centre for Entrepreneurial Agri-Technology, Industry Engagement Senior Manager, Martin Amidy said farmers can manage multiple tasks in real time at the click of a button.

Practical and cost effective solutions will be key to adoption. 

“In addition to the report, easily digestible fact sheets summarize available space technologies and their impact for livestock farming and broad acre cropping, to fishing and forestry, as well as more intensive farming systems like horticulture and dairy.”  

“It is important to emphasize the opportunity space technology presents, but it is equally important to arm producers with practical information on how to implement it and the return on investment they can get from adopting these technologies,” Mr Amidy said.  

The report shares insights into what is happening on a global scale and consolidates the technologies and applications suitable for the Australian context.

Focusing on three main components that can address challenges in rural industries: remote sensing, connectivity and geo-location, as well as the barriers to adoption.  

Ms Medway explained the next steps involve rural industries and tech companies collaborating to understand the complexities of the market to maximise space-tech opportunities.   

“The space landscape is fast paced. Space companies and tech developers are in our sights and we need further discussions to explore how technology can be applied to solve agricultural challenges,” said Ms Medway.   

Fast facts:  

  • The large-scale nature of extensive livestock farming and broadacre cropping in Australia lends well to space-based remote sensing due to satellite speed when scanning large areas.
  • More intensive farming systems – including horticulture and dairy – can be better served by drones or in-field technologies.
  • Earth and marine observing (including satellites, drones and sensors) had an estimated value to agriculture, fisheries and forestry in the Asia-Pacific region of $37 billion in 2019.
  • Improvements to geolocation could benefit agriculture by $2.2 billion over a 30-year period.
  • Satellite connectivity will assist in furthering the application of internet -enabled technologies, with such technologies having the potential to add $15.6 billion to gross value of production in agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries each year. 

Space-based technologies industry fact sheets:  

  • Extensive livestock 
  • Intensive livestock
  • Broad acre crops
  • Fisheries
  • Forestry
  • Horticulture