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Agriculture’s next revolution

Previous AgriFutures Horizon Scholar and evokeAG. Future Young Leader, Jordy Kitschke says agriculture is on the brink of another revolution, and according to him robotics will have a big part to play.

Spending his early years on a farm, Jordy realised agriculture wasn’t short of fun problems to solve.

“I could see there was so many opportunities for products to be built. I decided I wanted to solve some of these problems and just started building things,” Jordy explains.

Jordy went on to work at MEQ Probe, a company providing a new solution that utilises machine learning to determine the quality of meat in seconds. He used his time there to be a sponge for information and experiences in building and commercialising deep-tech.

“We were building a laser system to measure the eating quality of meat. I spent a few years going through the ‘fun’ of getting products to market, shortening iteration cycles, spending time with customers, building and breaking stuff, all the normal bits of what it takes to grow a company,” says Jordy.

Founding Flux

It’s safe to say these learnings held Jordy in good stead for when he founded his own robotics company, Flux.

“You sit in the boomsprayer thinking, ‘how much of this is actually hitting what I want it to hit?’ Then you look at your gross margins and think, ‘Gee this is an expensive game of whack-a-mole I’m playing,’” Jordy adds.

He saw a need and he set about doing something about it – if only it was that simple.

“I started building a system to target chemical directly onto weeds, using things like computer vision, artificial intelligence and edge computing. I built a prototype pretty quickly, and we have been trialling and iterating on that prototype on paddocks across South Australia throughout 2021,” Jordy explains.

What’s next for Flux?

Jordy has his sights set on a commercial version of the product to be ready in early 2022, which he says is thanks to industry partners who have helped make his vision a reality.

“We have had amazing support; we’ve had farmers who have opened their doors to us and given us all the help we need to make it happen. This experience has been true with all of the things I’ve worked on in agriculture. I’ve had everyone from the cleaners to CEO’s who’ve had an impact on the products I’ve been working on.

“When you are building something that has never existed before, you have to learn a truckload, fast, so when you can hear it straight from the customers mouth, it fast tracks your progress and reduces your time to market. It’s invaluable,” says Jordy.

First stop for Flux is a step-change transition from a blanket application of chemical across a landscape, to only targeting the chemicals where they are needed.

“Farmers make money from three variables, yield, price, and cost of production. Our products can help improve all three of those variables,” Jordy explains.

With reduced weeds, reduced cost of production and reduced impact on the environment, the solution has the potential to save the farmer money and reduce excess chemicals from being applied in the environment.

His plans for Flux don’t stop there though, down the track Jordy hopes to revolutionise the way we farm.

“Farmers are professional problem solvers that work with the realities of nature every day. We want to give them new ways of solving problems in the system they work in.

“What we are building is the machine intelligence that enables the farmer to think differently in terms of how they manage each square metre of their farm. When we give machines the ability to see, think and do things on a more granular scale, it opens up a whole new toolbox of options,” Jordy suggests.

The next ‘big thing’

Reflecting on the history of food production, Jordy observes a few major step-changes like the industrial revolution and green revolution. However, since these revolutions which completely changed the way our food system worked, Jordy says agriculture has been looking for the next ‘big thing’.

“Each of the step changes we’ve seen have come from a limiting factor being removed. For the industrial revolution it was labour and energy per square meter. For the green revolution it was nitrogen fertiliser, and then chemical weed control and genetics.

“I see the combination of robotics and artificial intelligence to be that next revolution. When tractors were first invented, they unlocked a whole new way of thinking about how a plot of land could be managed.

“If you’ve got an order of magnitude more machine intelligence per square meter, that again unlocks things that people never would have imagined,” Jordy explains.

Agritech: a land of opportunities

It’s possibilities like this that excite Jordy. With agriculture already such a diverse industry, Jordy says this is only going to expand with the ever-growing field of agritech.

“What I’ve found in the tech industry is the best and brightest minds want to work on the most important, most challenging problems. Given that agriculture feeds everyone and looks after a chunk of the world’s landmass, we’re seeing agritech attract some really brilliant people.

“Whatever skillset you have, if you give a couple of hoots about producing more and better food, there’s going to be no shortage of opportunity for you. Jobs in artificial intelligence and robotic engineering are just one example of area where you can have massive impact,” Jordy adds.

Food system savvy

Instead of seeing the workforce and skills needs in agriculture as an issue, Jordy sees them as an opportunity.

“The size of our workforce is never going to be our strength. As always, Australian agri-businesses will get creative about how they achieve what they need to with the resources they have at hand.”

“People aren’t as close to the food they consume as they could be, but I think it’s pretty clear people want to be and this is certainly one path we can attract talent. Plus, the breadth of roles you can work in, and the locations you can work from mean it’s never been easier for people to work in the industry.

“Where does the opportunity lie for Australian agriculture? If it was a startup you would ask what’s the competitive advantage. I would say firstly, producing food with the greatest utility to the consumer. Then secondly, the ingenuity of our people, we should be productising and exporting that capability. If we can knock those two things out of the park, I reckon Australia will do very well.”

From one young agricultural leader to the next

A previous Horizon Scholar and evokeAG. Future Young Leader himself, Jordy says these experiences framed his perspective of agriculture’s production systems, supply chains and business models more broadly.

When it comes to his advice for the next generation of agricultural leaders, Jordy says to simply get it done.
“There’s as much opportunity as you’re willing to work for, go and make it happen.”

Applications for the 2022 AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship close on January 14, 2022.

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