Inaugural Agrihack harvests new talent - The Land

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Pennie Scott's article from The Land

Bringing together a range of characters who rarely share the same table was one of the key reasons for creating the Agrihack Innovation Harvest, explained founder, Dianna Somerville, ‘Posey Point’, Collingullie via Wagga Wagga.

“In reality, silos of thinking and association keep limits on what’s possible and we need different thinking to create innovative solutions. I call this the collision of ideas and personalities and that's exactly what happened with the first Agrihack.”

Four challenges were presented to three teams created from individual entrants and one self-formed comprising IT students, their lecturer and a farmer.  Topics came from the dairy and wool sectors with the remaining two based on potential use of technology and data.

The challenge was facilitated by Ash Blake from CommBank’s Innovation Lab with guidelines and processes to utilise the short time frame as effectively as possible. “The incentive of cash prizes may have tightened the focus”, he said, “but I think the opportunity to work in teams with people they’d never met was a strong motivating factor for entrants.”

Andrew Walton, a consultant with Australian Wool Innovation and presently collaborating with the CSU School of Agriculture and Wine Sciences on an e-challenge at the University of Adelaide in June, was also scouting for potential participants in that program. Mr Walton also was one of the judges and was deeply impressed with the range of innovative and market-ready products.

Another judge, Rob Collier from the Blue River Investment Group in Wagga, was struck by how the Dairy team identified and addressed the burning issue of low retention and high staff turnover rates for dairy farmers.

“There are now only 6,300 dairy farms in Australia and, by 2025, it’s expected there will be 1,500 fewer which changes the dynamics of milk production. The trend seems to be fewer farms with larger herds producing more milk. Robotic systems already are being used however, at the end of every day, it is the human touch and element that sustains and nourishes our industry.”

Professor John Mawson from the CSU School of Agriculture and Wine Sciences enjoyed judging and seeing the pitches from each team vying for the $5000 in prize money. The best ‘pitch’ award was won by Matt Champness, third year student of agriculture for his convincing performance of a dairy farmer being told his employee wouldn’t be back.

”Matt conveyed all the emotion a person at the end of their tether would be feeling at five thirty in the morning with 350 cows to milk and having to get children to school on time. These frustrations are one of the reasons farmers are leaving this sector as they are so burned out.”

Ms Somerville expressed her gratitude to the sponsors – CommBank Regional and AgriBusiness Banking, Charles Sturt University’s School of Agricultural and Wine Sciences, Landmark, Riverina Fresh, H E Silos and Australian Wool Innovation. 

“Having skin in the game demonstrates your genuine interest in agriculture and our sponsors have vested themselves into this new process by financial support but also by attending and judging the entire challenge so they could not just see the outcomes, but observe how the concepts and iterations came into reality.”

“I am already planning the 2018 Agrihack where mental health is front and centre so   this space,” she concluded, with a satisfied smile. 

11 April 2017 - Pennie Scott

Read the original article on The Land

Dianna Somerville