Australian farmers are preparing to reap whatever comes next.

Story Amanda Burdon 

It was a tough crowd at the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association’s annual conference. Few would swap their broad hats for one of Tim Gentle’s virtual reality (VR) headsets and journey to the future of Australian farming. But when the software developer projected a life-sized Poll Hereford and cattle yards onto the stage, he had them eating out of the palm of his hand.

Technology is advancing rapidly in all facets of our lives and Australian agriculture is no exception. Although it may have been a little slow on the uptake, the mob is on the move; some call it a stampede. 

Tim tours the country with his Farm VR experience to educate school children about where food comes from. He says both VR and AR (augmented reality) will play an important part in inspiring the next generation of Australian farmers. “It enables kids to see farming in a different light, as something cool, and that will hopefully encourage them to take up agriculture as a career,” he says. “Taking your seat behind the wheel of a big tractor, flying over a salmon farm or seeing the latest technology in action puts them in the picture, and as an industry we have to keep up with the way people consume content.”

VR videos shot by Tim are now being used by some of Australia’s largest cattle producers to court overseas buyers. They’re also being used by a large dairy farm to induct staff and by Elders to take stock and machinery sales into the virtual realm. “It’s not long before I’ll be able to beam a three-dimensional tractor or bull for buyers to inspect in the comfort of their own sheds,” Tim says. “Think of the savings in time and money. In the not-too-distant future I see farmers using VR and AR to teach other farmers, so that we can apply lessons learnt internationally. My ultimate aim is for Farm VR to help feed the world.”

But the future of Australian farming is not just about the latest gadgetry; it’s also about community building, open-mindedness, even revisiting the past. Resourceful and resilient farmers across the country are safeguarding their businesses against future shocks and creatively capitalising on emerging opportunities, taking into account changing markets, climate and technology.

This story excerpt is from Issue #119

Outback Magazine: June/July 2018