There has been a lot of discussion about the potential impact of "Big Data" on Australian agriculture over recent times, with views ranging from "They'll never replace farmers" to "Its the end of agriculture as we know it, and farmers will soon be redundant." Exactly where advances in computer technology and digital information will take the agriculture sector over the next few decades is as yet uncertain, but what is already clear is that it is likely to result in pretty significant change.
In summary, the use of data analytics to analyse enormous datasets (think of a database of all the individual customer transactions of a major bank over a year, or all the purchases made by supermarket customers over a similar period, - both of which also have customers personal details included) banks now have this information available for retail business to produce insights into customer behaviour, it is effectively replacing the judgement and experience of managers rather with computer processing power instead.
"Now comes the second machine age. Computers and other digital advances are doing for mental power – the ability to use our brains to understand and shape our environments – what the steam engine and its descendants did for muscle power." (Erik Brynjolfsson, Director, MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2015).
As recently as perhaps ten years ago, the cost of storing digital information such as harvester yield maps for example would have been prohibitive, it is now rapidly approaching the point where data storage capacity has no cost, with new cloud based systems
Computer developments appear more advanced in the cropping sectors, but applications are also beginning to emerge and gather momentum in the livestock and horticulture sectors. Exactly what the implications of these developments will be for the future of farming is as yet unclear in my mind. Perhaps the response that "a computer will never replace a farmer" is more wishful thinking than most might realise!