It is easy to get overwhelmed by the negative ‘noise’ that has plagued the cotton industry on some media platforms and political forums of late. Upon critical analysis by those who have a little more insight, it is evident that many of these claims are nothing more than baseless, short term “click bait.” Nevertheless, they have been highly damaging to the industry and those of us who work in it.
In a recent social media campaign, Cotton Australia (CA) has been combating this misinformation head on. CA Chief Executive Officer Adam Kay has highlighted the importance of each of us engaging in the sharing of the positive stories of the cotton industry.
We all have a stewardship role to play in communicating the Australian cotton story and preserving the elements and inputs that are integral to its sustainable future. But in an era when it is easy to default to online debate, we need to remember that ‘stewardship’ can be exercised in many ways.
Beyond the social media melee, there is a long established and potentially more direct way in which we all – growers, researchers, and consultants alike, can play an active role in shaping the future direction of our industry.
The Transgenic Insecticide Management Strategy (TIMS) Committee was established by the then Australian Cotton Growers Research Association (later to morph into Cotton Australia) in the mid 1990’s. One of its main purposes was to assist in the development of the initial ‘industry approved’ Resistance Management Plan (RMP) for Bt Cotton in Australia (Downes et al 2010). In 1998, a relatively new organisation in cotton – Cotton Consultants Australia (to become Crop Consultants Australia) was offered a voice on the TIMS Committee. Members of CCA of the time recall this as a pivotal moment in the organisation when consultants were recognised for their role in the future of cotton in Australia.
The thinking behind the involvement of the TIMS Committee in the RMP process was that a plan that was developed by industry, should have a much higher potential for adoption by growers, than one written and enforced by regulators. This theory was not unfounded, and today, the current TIMS Committee and its Technical Panels, are comprised of growers, researchers, consultants and members from the grain and pulse industries. It continues to operate with the ongoing brief to develop and review resistance management strategies within the cotton industry. One of their key purposes in doing so is to ensure that the ‘traits and products are stewarded in a sustainable manner that protects the right to farm for cotton growers, protects the social licence of the cotton industry and ensures commercial longevity for these technologies.” (“Cotton Australia | Stewardship”, 2021)
CCA currently holds four of the eighteen seats on TIMS committee, representing consultants in all of the major cotton growing valleys. The fact that these positions are tightly held for extended periods by members, is testimony to the importance that our representative place on the role.
CCA Director and long term TIMS member Ben Dawson believes that involvement in the committee gives representatives a direct voice.
“We have the opportunity to make change and to have a say on the issues that are relevant to us,” says Dawson.
Likewise, these representatives are the voice of industry. To fulfil this however, they require input from the rest of ‘us’ to better inform their discussions. In doing so, we ensure that industry retains considered and evidence-based participation in protecting social licence and the future of our industry.
Our own role in Stewardship however extends further than that of the TIMS committee. As industry professionals, it is our responsibility to ensure that the RMP and the principles and practices that underpin it, are adhered to and that compliance is respected. Growers and consultants alike, we are all accountable for promoting the cotton industry as a leader in best practice. It only takes one poor operator to bring the work of many into disrepute. Those who would happily see the dispansion of our industry, will then have a very valid reason to make ‘noise’ and be heard.
If you would like to make contact with a member of the TIMS Committee or find out more about its processes, visit https://cottonaustralia.com.au/stewardship. Alternatively, contact the CCA office for the contact details of the representative in your area.
Cotton Australia | Stewardship. (2021). Retrieved 18 July 2021, from https://cottonaustralia.com.au/stewardship
Downes, S., Mahon, R.J., Rossiter, L., Kauter, G., Leven, T., Fitt, G. and Baker, G. (2010), Adaptive management of pest resistance by Helicoverpa species (Noctuidae) in Australia to the Cry2Ab Bt toxin in Bollgard II® cotton. Evolutionary Applications, 3: 574-584. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1752-4571.2010.00146.x
CCA members would be aware that Agworld has been a key strategic partner for over 10 years. Agworld provides farm information management systems which are widely used across many agricultural industries by agronomists and farmers. Collaboration between CCA and Agworld has enabled us to streamline our data collection processes for the Cotton Market Audit project. This project, which is funded by the Cotton Research and Development Corporation, has been collecting farm input information for the cotton industry since 2001. The cotton industry has used this data to monitor practice change over time, allowing for objective measurement of research impacts, seasonal trends, changes in technology, and issues affecting social licence to farm.
CCA members using Agworld can use the program for pest monitoring, product recommendations and farm record keeping. Farmers are using Agworld for paddock record keeping as well. Agworld users can run a report at the end of the season to submit their records to the CCA Cotton Market Audit. This is the most efficient way to contribute data and saves a lot of time that would otherwise be required to collate the information. Agworld also protects agronomists and growers by keeping a record of the recommendations that you give to your farmers. This reduces the chance of recommendations being misunderstood, and they can be referred back to at any time if needed.
CCA recently met with Simon Foley of Agworld to discuss their recent acquisition by the Canadian company, Semios. Simon stressed that the changes in their business have strengthened Agworld’s capacity to grow the service that they are currently providing to CCA members. They remain committed to working with us to improve the collection of data for the Cotton Market Audit which is recognised as bringing great benefits to the industry. It is important that we continue to work together to make the data collection process easier, improving survey coverage and exploring possible opportunities to collect additional data to benefit the industry.
Undoubtedly the data space is one of the most exciting and fast-moving areas of agriculture. CCA looks forward to working with Agworld and assisting our members and their clients to reap the maximum benefits of implementing the technology in their businesses.
It’s not so long ago that the term ‘smart farming’ had a very different meaning. The ‘smart’ farmer was one who understood his farm, had a knack for reading the weather patterns, and with a dose of good luck thrown in.
Today’s ‘smart farmer’ however has a vastly different profile. They as distinct from ‘he’, are an operator who gathers and deciphers relevant information from an almost endless source of data at their fingertips. Then, in conjunction with applied technology, they farm in a way that they, in turn, generate more data to contribute to the world supply. That data, if interpreted correctly, has the ability to create an unprecedented decision-making environment.
The smart farmer’s own data has now also become another marketable output from their operation.
Just as many of the broader Australian public have concerns over their online footprint and its collection, storage, use and security, Australian farmers too are reticent when it comes to sharing their data (Wiseman, Sanderson, Zhang, & Jakku, 2019).
In their 2017 article ‘Big Data in Smart Farming – A Review’ researchers observed a, ‘landscape of stakeholders exhibiting an interesting game between powerful tech companies, venture capitalists and often small start-ups and new entrants (Wolfert, Ge, Verdouw, & Bogaardt, 2017).’
It seems that the value of agricultural data has caught the attention of the ‘big’ players and the optimistic short-term players alike.
As a result of their study, Wolfert and his colleagues went on to propose that priority needed to be given to researching the issues of standards, ownership and governance, but more importantly, ‘suitable business models for data sharing in different supply chain scenarios (Wolfert, Ge, Verdouw, & Bogaardt, 2017).’
It is worthy of note that until the 2020 drafting of the Farm Data Code by the National Farmers Federation, there was no formal guide in Australia regulating how farming data could be collected, stored or shared. While comprehensive, the Code is just that – a guide encouraging ‘best practice.’ The nuances of ownership and ‘rights’ continue to be played out in a series of court cases setting precedents, both here and internationally. For most farmers, the data market remains a complicated, relatively unnavigated, and still uncertain space.
So what then of the input data that provides the foundation of this decision making process? While some of it may be comprised of an ever-growing databank of local on farm history, how much faith should the grower have in ‘off farm’ information sources being fed into their decision making?
Being ‘tech savvy’, has become a core requirement, rather than a point of differentiation for today’s ‘smart’ farmer. The issue is that the ‘tech’ part, often comes with a greater level of confidence than the ‘savvy.’ With so much of this data and information at our fingertips, and it would seem, so many companies out there ready to capitalize on this information hunger, where do we even start to identify reliable information sources?
This is a much more crucial decision than assessing the credibility of a website when trawling the net.
What also, does a grower do, when their gut feeling and age-old farming intuition, contradicts the information being recommended by the technology?
Just as the mode of operation of the farmer has evolved, so too has the role of their consultant. No longer is their advice limited to purely in field agronomic advice. Instead, growers are now turning to their consultants for guidance and information in the ag-technology sphere. Shared experiences, be they successes or failures, are a key to building trust and adoption of new approaches to decision making. Increasingly, this role is becoming an important part of the consultant’s commercial offering.
This year, Crop Consultant’s Australia (CCA) will be undertaking a project, in collaboration with GRDC and the University of Melbourne to take an in depth look into the factors that impact upon decision making with regards to the adoption of, and trust in on farm technology. In a series of case studies, the project will examine the professional relationship between grower and consultant, and the internal and external factors that contribute to a successful decision-making dynamic, and confidence in its outcomes.
Through the project, CCA aims to provide its members, the broader industry and growers with a tangible insight into the assessment of the possible application, and adoption of technology on farm.
It is evident from the outset however, that while the definitive data is all important, the ‘understanding of the farm’ still has an integral role to play. Maybe the definition of ‘smart’ hasn’t changed after all.
Wiseman, L., Sanderson, J., Zhang, A., & Jakku, E. (2019). Farmers and their data: An examination of farmers’ reluctance to share their data through the lens of the laws impacting smart farming. NJAS – Wageningen Jounal of Life Sciences, 100301.
Wolfert, S., Ge, L., Verdouw, C., & Bogaardt, M. (2017, May). Big Data in Smart Farming – A review. Agricultural Systems, pp. 69-80.
A legacy of 2020 is that have all become quite comfortable with online meetings and catching up on missed recorded events in our own time.
Technology has served us well and will continue to do so into the future. As busy business owners however, it is important that we invest time in quality professional development.
“Networking and information sharing in person is more valuable than ever.”
That is the message from Crop Consultants Australia Director and Goondiwindi Agronomist David Kelly who, along with his fellow CCA Directors is in the process of finalising the content for CCA’s 2021 face to face events.
After the 2020 hiatus on face-to-face events, COVID restrictions permitting, CCA will host their annual two-day Seminar in Narrabri on 23-24 June 2021.
It will be two years since the group has met, and Mr Kelly makes the point that the planned agenda reflects the vastly different seasonal conditions that many of Australia’s key cropping regions have experienced since 2019.
In keeping with the CCA focus on timely delivery on innovative research to support independent consultants, the agenda is not driven by delivery of existing research projects. Instead, members have regular opportunities throughout the year to suggest relevant topics that will contribute to current seasonal decision making.
This year, speakers and panel discussions will focus on the latest management strategies including the overseas experience with Fall armyworm and mirids. Irrigation scheduling and the latest technology to support in field decision making will also be high on the agenda as will disease management for pulses and cereals.
As a professional development group for independent agronomists, CCA also plans to run two specialised regional workshops in 2021 which will be livestreamed for members outside the regions. The first, a business management masterclass in Goondiwindi on 9 September will provide participants with an opportunity to assess software options, HR tools and resources to help take the headache out of day-to-day business management.
The week following, on the 16th of September in Griffith, the event will showcase ‘Crops less planted.’
“At this event we will be providing speakers and information sources on many of those crops we hear about, but on which information is not as readily available. We aim to have a firsthand insight from consultants and growers who have experience in the production and pitfalls of less mainstream crops and varieties,” Mr Kelly said.
Registration to CCA events is open to all. At a time when we are all looking to reconnect at a personal level, growers, researchers, consultants, and broader industry members are encouraged to mark the dates in their diaries and register their interest online.
Information on the events, including a link to register on the invitation list is available at https://cropconsultants.com.au/events/.
It is safe to say that 2020 was a challenging year for Australian agronomists on many fronts. If we put aside our immediate thoughts of the impact of the world-wide COVID pandemic, the key stories that remain include ongoing drought in some regions, a summer of bushfires, international trade barriers and sanctions. Many regions have seen their first crop in years, only to have difficulty getting it off with no staff on the ground due to international and domestic border closures. If only the ‘new’ pest Fall armyworm had also go the message about those closures, we may also not be facing the onslaught of yet another destructive and aggressive challenge.
While all of this may seem overwhelming as we wait to put 2020 in the rear vision mirror, without sounding too negative, we can all learn a lot by reflecting on its challenges and putting them back into perspective.
While we would all be forgiven for not building global pandemic into our 2020 business plan, but as for the rest, should these have been on our radar? We need to ask, were any of these challenges truly unforeseen, or did they just happen in rapid succession in 2019/2020?
The recommendation of business experts to cope with the impost of COVID was that we needed to ‘pivot’…ground one foot and change direction with the other. While ‘pivot’ has become the catch phrase of 2020, in reflection, we need to question whether this should be a basic business principal for all, rather than just a crisis response.
Like all other Australian small businesses, agronomists are exposed to the vagaries of the national economy. It is however, the everchanging ecosystem that is our work environment, that presents additional pressures. While just as variable, the impost of drought, flood, heat waves which are often termed as natural disasters are, in fact, part of our everyday business and as such, belong in everyone’s SWOT analysis. Year 8 science also tells us that this ecosystem – be it at a regional, field /paddock, or micro level is dynamic. With that, will come adaption, development of resistance, and shifting populations of both pest and friendly species alike.
Why then, do we continue to act surprised and bewildered when we are hit with yet another ‘natural’ challenge?
While experience in the industry will give practitioners some expertise to deal with changing fortunes in the paddock, even the most knowledgeable of consultants will admit that no two seasons are the same. For many of us, it is a long time since that final exam at university, but this dynamic system in which we operate leaves us no choice but to focus on ongoing professional development and information sharing to tackle ‘new’ problems. COVID-19 restrictions have made this learning somewhat difficult in a face to face context. Platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn have become invaluable tools both instantaneous information sharing, discussion and problem solving. Additionally, a myriad of online learning content has made its way to the internet, and much of it is free.
In 2020, Crop Consultants Australia was one of the few organisations who were able to run a face-to-face training event. Focusing on tackling the big ‘What If’s in agriculture, the workshop examined many of the ‘prickly’ topics that we often see as the challenges in our industry, but potentially, are just part of its fabric.
From getting a better handle on climate prediction, to considering farming systems post glyphosate, the workshop encouraged participants to start thinking ‘outside the box’ to find new answers to old problems. Consistently though, the presenters’ message to attendees reinforced the importance of planning and being willing to alter that plan if needed.
The recordings from this event, are publicly available to all on the Crop Consultants’ YouTube Channel to listen to as a podcast to take in the full event. (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJqx5JlJzt3nRaZaVmKYPi3eCJXiCw35e)
The challenge for all practicing agronomists, is to ensure that they are part of the ongoing conversation on current issues, and never stop searching for, or considering alternative answers. While we wish for a more stable environment on all fronts in 2021, the last decade, not just the last year, has taught us that there is no such thing as an average year, and our key tool in addressing this is resilient planning.
Please visit our website https://cropconsultants.com.au/events/ for the latest on our planned 2021 events and email the CCA office to ensure you are on our mailing list for invites.