Robots will be central to the next farming revolution in Australia, leading scientists predict.
In coming years robots, drones and sensor networks will help farmers gather data to make better decisions and improve profitability, according to the Australian Council of Learned Academies report on the nation’s agricultural future released on Monday.
“Automation will continue to grow and robots will harvest and prune, drones will survey fences in pastoral leases and check for problems in high-valued crops,” the report said.
Agriculture was entering into the “second machine age”, the report says.
In the next 35 years, the value of Australian agriculture exports, currently about $41 billion, could double because of surging global demand.
The industry is also set to benefit from the end of the mining investment boom.
“Less competition for rural labour by mining firms, coupled with rising demand for food exports, will provide more favourable growth conditions,” the report said.
It warns farming is getting a bad rap in the community and the sector needs to address erosion of its social licence to operate.
Dr Joanne Daly said questions about food safety, product labelling, gene technology in plant and animal breeding, foreign investment and foreign workers, and farm ownership structures call for informed and respectful debates.
KEY FINDINGS OF AGRICULTURE REPORT
* The median age of Australian farmers is increasing at a faster rate than the general ageing population.
* Public concern about foreign investment could constrain the sector.
* Bulk commodities will become the majority of agriculture exports in volume and value.
* The domestic market will remain important for Australian produce even though exports will grow.
* Genetically modified crops and food represent opportunities and risk for the Australian food industry.
* Australia’s reputation for safe, clean and green food is a major comparative advantage.
* Reform is needed to address water conflict issues between agricultural and gas production.
(Source: Australian Council of Learned Academies report)