There’s a reason Australian tourist advertisements feature scenic shots of secluded and pristine beaches and valleys bordered by vineyards.
The value of Australian agriculture and ranching, from shiraz to Wagyu beef, is intrinsically linked to the perception of Australia as a country of unspoiled beauty and fresh and bountiful produce.
Before this season’s bushfires, Australian agriculture was expected to grow by over $ 3 billion a year to become a $ 100 billion industry by 2030, placing it alongside mining and mining. construction as one of Australia‘s crucial industries.
The rapidly expanding middle class Asian markets are poised to pay higher prices for high quality Australian food in the future. But only if the quality and – just as important – the quality perception of Australian products are maintained.
Australia’s superior agricultural exports to important markets will be tested by the volatility that climate change injects into this narrative.
Consumers see more than tourist ads
Already in 2020, smoke from Australia’s unprecedented bushfire crisis has tainted almost an entire vintage of Canberra wines.
Instead of tourist advertisements, potential overseas consumers have seen months of footage showing raging fires, cremated livestock and native species, and towns covered in smoke.
Major changes in Australian agriculture are needed to overcome these threats to the quality of Australian products, both real and perceived.
Increasing the yield and efficiency of agricultural production will need to be achieved while relying on fewer agricultural resources and inputs.
Growers and growers, especially after such a difficult year and facing more unpredictable weather conditions, will need more accurate agronomic information, forecasts and risk assessments.
In short, Australia will have to innovate.
We fall short
Research published this week by the Center for United States Studies at the University of Sydney clearly showed that Australia lags New Zealand in one of the main drivers of future agricultural prosperity: networks of those of AgTech, the link between agriculture and technology.
Social media enables innovation, but our research – in collaboration with LinkedIn – mapped AgTech networks in Australia, New Zealand and the United States and found Australia to be very failing.
To map the networks, we used LinkedIn proprietary data from a self-assembled list of AgTech companies active in the three countries.
We found that New Zealand’s networks appeared to be more efficient than those in Australia. In fact, while Australia’s AgTech network is much larger than New Zealand’s, it is about a fifth of the interconnected network.
This means that innovators in Australia are less likely to collaborate and share knowledge with each other, two fundamental elements leading to innovation.
New Zealand does more with much less
Another challenge is to attract foreign investment. As the world’s largest AgTech market – estimated at US $ 10.2 billion and accounting for approximately 65% ââof global AgTech investments – connections with the United States are vital.
Despite the size disparity between the networks in Australia and New Zealand, the number of connections between the two countries to this American market is comparable.
Simply put, New Zealand is doing more with much less.
Australia and New Zealand both have good global and national conditions for AgTech innovation. Both countries have an excellent agricultural reputation, world-class research facilities, free trade agreements with much of Asia, years of testing new technologies, strong intellectual property rights. and relatively market-friendly regulations.
The clearest difference between the two countries is that, from the size of its population to the capital markets, New Zealand is smaller than Australia in virtually every area.
Yet despite – or perhaps because of – such major differences, New Zealand’s AgTech network appears to be more advanced in its development.
This is understandable considering that agriculture’s contribution to GDP is more than twice as large in New Zealand as in Australia.
The stakes for AgTech’s success are more than twice as high for New Zealand.
How can Australia compete?
The New Zealand government has recognized this and has responded accordingly, prioritizing the whole government, as evidenced by its industry body AgTech, Agritech New Zealand.
These New Zealand companies have also differentiated themselves by not simply aspiring to saturate their domestic market. They are world-oriented from day one.
So how can Australia compete with this?
It’s not necessary. Australia and New Zealand can both step up efforts to combine trans-Tasman forces.
A coordinating body, the Australia-New Zealand Agritech Council, is in the early stages of its development and should be initiated and fully supported by both governments.
Such an organization could help build the Australian and New Zealand AgTech networks in a way that facilitates global growth.
Concretely, it will be easier to force foreign investors to take a long flight if the two AgTech networks work together.
A well-established reputation for overcoming adversity
Australian policymakers should also look to entice sophisticated AgTech investors from overseas, particularly from the United States.
Foreign venture capital firms provide more than money – they also provide global networks and expertise on how to grow globally.
Finally, the Australian government should consider embracing an understanding of AgTech that goes beyond simply increasing crop yields and efficiency.
It is part of the knowledge economy and therefore is not limited by the size of Australian crops or land as the whole world is the market.
To better appreciate the full economic potential of AgTech, the Australian government should consider supporting a study that would quantify the potential economic impact of AgTech as part of a broader perspective on the knowledge economy.
Australian agriculture has a reputation for overcoming difficult conditions to provide some of the best produce in the world.
Faced with a myriad of challenges, the health of Australia’s AgTech networks will be crucial in keeping this tradition alive.
Jared Mondschein is a senior fellow and senior advisor and Elliott Brennan is an associate researcher at the United States Studies Center. They are both co-authors of Isolated AgTech in Australia? An analysis of the social networks of an innovative sector.