Legislative Council: Wednesday, November 15, 2023


AgTech Growth Fund

The Hon. R.P. WORTLEY (14:37): My question is the Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development. Will the minister inform the chamber about the progress of projects awarded funding under the first round of the AgTech Growth Fund?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (14:37): I thank the honourable member for his question. It is estimated that the return on realising the potential of agtech in South Australia is currently $2.6 billion a year in gross additional value of agricultural production. This is the economic benefit we can harness as a state if new technological innovations are adopted which better manage our scarce resources amidst a changing climate.

To support this opportunity, the government's AgTech Growth Fund provides supports for projects which solve critical industry challenges through grants of up to $100,000. To be successful, projects must be sponsored by a primary producer, and in this way the fund brings together important players in the value chain of primary production, from the developers of technological products to primary producers, and then, ultimately, consumers.

Nine recipients were announced as part of the first round of the AgTech Growth Fund in June 2022, with grant funding for that round totalling over $717,000. A varied bundle of projects was funded across the grains, horticulture, viticulture, dairy and seafood industries, and many now have results they are sharing with the broader agtech community as well as primary producers in region.

Two projects are particularly advanced and are worth highlighting because they are demonstrating to primary producers in the field the benefits of adopting advanced agricultural technologies. The first project, under the business name Cropify, is developing artificial intelligence technology to classify grains. I am advised that currently in Australia and overseas, about 50 per cent of classification is performed subjectively by the human eye, leading to an annual value leakage up and down the supply chain of $54 million because of misclassification.

The Cropify system works to alleviate this problem by training the system's algorithm to benchmark the results of lab-tested samples and then applying this benchmark to new samples. Through this process, the Cropify system has achieved results of greater than 98 per cent accuracy—more accurate than the classification.

The project financed through the AgTech Growth Fund facilitated Cropify's building of prototype hardware and software to demonstrate the accurate classification of one of the most challenging grains, namely, small red lentils. I am told that in addition, it is likely to reduce carbon emissions, because trucks are often lining up in silo line-ups with the engines running for quite a long time as they wait for a human to classify the grains. Instead, the Cropify system takes about 25 per cent of the equivalent human time.

Founders of Cropify, Anna Falkiner and Andrew Hannon, have already taken the prototype directly to bulk handlers and growers and have exhibited the prototype at major agricultural field days. Reflecting on this engagement, Anna emphasised and I quote:

Keeping our target customers involved during Cropify's development has been crucial…It means the technology has a greater chance of being widely accepted by industry.

This is vital, because the benefits of agtech advances will only be realised if the benefits of producer investment and adoption are demonstrated, marketed and understood by primary producers.

The second project, under the business name Capture Actual Time, or CAT, has produced eight infield loggers for real-time bunch weight sensing in the wine industry. I am advised that traditionally, in order to estimate vine yield, growers strip about 10 per cent of their fruit for sampling. The CAT system removes the need for this process by using load cell technology in conjunction with Internet of Things sensors to provide bunch weight samples while still on the vine. This achieves greater sample accuracy and, because the measurements are provided in real time, the system provides the data needed to better understand bunch weight responses to different climatic conditions, such as heatwaves, cool spells and rainfall, improving irrigation and harvest decisions.

While the technology is still in the trial stage, the interest in the technology from industry has already been extremely promising, with CAT producing and installing systems in the Napa Valley, California; and in New Zealand. The proponents of both projects have reinforced how crucial finance received through the AgTech Growth Fund has been in accelerating the development of their prototypes and staying ahead of potential market competitors. I look forward to seeing how these innovations progress and providing further updates on AgTech Growth Fund projects.