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The Implications of Digital Agriculture and Big Data for Australian Agriculture

The development of farming machinery and digital technology that is able to generate objective information about the status of soil, water, crops, pasture, and animals is quickly changing the way in which farm businesses can be managed in Australia. The emergence of digital agriculture, and the potential this creates for the application of big data analytics in agriculture, signals the initial stage of a fundamental change away from the skill-based farm management systems that have prevailed until present times toward a more industrialized model of agriculture where decisions are based to a greater degree on objective data.

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The earliest stages of this change occurred in the row and broadacre cropping sectors in the early 1990s with the development of Global Positioning System (GPS) guidance systems, which were then augmented with auto-steer technology and grain harvester yield monitors. Subsequent developments included seeder and fertilizer applicators with the capacity to vary application rates within a field. More recently, software applications and cloud data storage facilities have enabled the resulting data to be captured, stored, and manipulated, and then used in decision-support tools to guide farm management decisions.

Digital agriculture applications have also emerged in the livestock and horticulture sectors, including, for example, electronic livestock identification systems, genomics, automated milking systems, automated livestock weighing platforms, telemetric irrigation and water management systems, remote sensing technologies, and instruments for the automated collection of weather and climatic information.