Farmers have traditionally read the skies for insights into surviving the harsh agriculture business but now it's a new type of cloud that may support them.
It's romantic to think that farmers might be making important agricultural decisions based on gut feel and instinct, but in truth it's probably with the help of a talented agronomist, a specialist who analyses macro trends and recommends a particular course of action or product in a particular situation. For example, these specialists might suggest the use of a specific herbicide should disease break out because of a change in weather conditions.
Data management application AgWorld facilitates this process by making it easy to keep better records on the farm, even making it possible to use iPads out in the paddock, and then allowing farmers to selectively share this information with their agronomist to improve recommendations.
AgWorld co-founder Doug Fitch gives an example of how a farmer might deal with the occurrence of "stripe rust" in a wheat crop ... first taking a photo of the condition on an iPad and then sharing the information with an agronomist. The agronomist would then be able to make a more educated recommendation on herbicide or other course of action.
AgWorld can also be used to identify macro farming trends by aggregating the data and activity across the thousands of farmers and hundreds of agronomists that operate across a particular region and/or crop type.
These trends are extremely valuable for those in the agriculture supply chain, including retailers who manage the agronomists across a particular region and the suppliers that manufacture the agrochemicals. Retailers and suppliers can factor the trend information into their decision-making. They may, for example, decide to develop a stronger pesticide in response to a disease outbreak.
Fitch believes the data would also be of value to quality assurance companies, food retailers such as Coles and Woolworths, and banks.
AgWorld was developed by Fitch, Chris Ramsey, and CTO Matthew Powell, and in the partnership's two years of commercial operation, Fitch estimates the company has attracted about 12,000 farmers to the system, which represents about 30 per cent of the region's total broadacre and horticulture operators.
AgWorld recently secured a $1.5 million investment from Perth-based firm Yuuwa Capital. The application is also being used by farmers in South Africa and the company is also eyeing expansion into the United States.
The company has traction in the market. It serves the whole supply chain, but starts with solving the record-keeping problems that affect farmers.
The application needs to be customised for different markets, which could potentially slow down its expansion and its ability to scale.
There are few applications for the agriculture industry, in Australia and globally, especially ones that integrate the latest mobile devices.
The fact that it services the entire supply chain could also affect its quality of engagement with farmers, which is the foundation of the business. If a competitor replicated this success in America, it would be hard to imagine that AgWorld could compete against them.
This is one of the best examples of some true-blue innovation that has the potential of being a world-beater. It doesn't get more Australian than a Perth start-up developing a product for Australian farmers, scaling this out to the entire supply chain and then taking the model abroad. The company will need to secure the right backing and contacts in order to crack the protected American farming and tech industries, but if it can do this, AgWorld will definitely go on to be an Australian tech giant, which could have very positive implications for the Perth start-up/tech industry. Definitely one to watch.