OPINION: Connectivity at core of big industry changes

Controversially he recently bought Twitter, gave us Teslas, and is revolutionising space travel with SpaceX, so you might wonder how Elon Musk can have any sort of influence on agriculture.

Recently I was on a Microsoft Teams meeting where grain producers who farm in a rural remote area commented that they were able to finally have reliable connectivity because of Elon’s Starlink.

The broadband internet that Starlink  provides is enabling connectivity in farming regions and rural communities which have previously had little to no internet. It’s all driven by a constellation of low earth orbit satellites.

Two-thirds of Australia’s landmass currently has no mobile coverage, despite a third of Australia’s population living outside metropolitan cities.

Over the years, governments have tended to invest funds into more highly populated areas to fix mobile blackspots rather than farming country, which is often asset rich but less populated. It should be noted the Federal Government launched a $30 million On Farm Connectivity Program “to enable primary producers in agriculture, forestry and/or fisheries to extend connectivity in their fields so they can take advantage of connected machinery and sensor technology”.

Starlink isn’t the only solution in addressing the connectivity gap on-farm. Internet of Things networks are having positive impacts and there’s multiple technologies relating to antennas, repeaters, boosters, sensors and Wi-Fi solutions.

For broadacre cropping, reliable connectivity is critical to ensure producers get the most out of significant investment in digital agriculture and machinery. With the high costs of inputs, reducing costs through accuracy by utilising precision agriculture equipment is important but to do that, you need full connectivity. There’s no room for patchy reception.

Currently, Grain Producers SA is undertaking a pilot project with Zetifi, another option for connectivity in regional areas, where there previously hasn’t been reliable access. Three grain producers on the Eyre Peninsula and Yorke Peninsula are utilising this technology to help bridge connectivity gaps on-farm.

These solutions are changing the way our grain producers do business and for solutions such as Starlink, it’s privately funded.

With reliable connectivity, producers are able to monitor soil moisture, crop biomass, real-time weather, just to name a few, in a very accurate manner that is impossible for even the most experienced agriculturalist to detect.

So what does Elon Musk and agriculture have in common? Well, we really are connected – even if only by a satellite!