Q&A with Dr Jane Weatherley

16 December 2016

Earlier this year, MLA unveiled its plan to accelerate the digital future of Australia’s red meat and livestock industry.

The ‘Digital Value Chain Strategy’ – an industry first – is designed to empower every participant at every point in the value chain through data-driven commercial decision making and the utilisation of some of the world’s best digital technology.

In this Q&A, MLA’s Dr Jane Weatherley, CEO National Livestock Identification System Ltd, explains why it’s important and what the next steps in its development are.

Is there an appetite for the use of more data in the red meat industry?

I fundamentally believe there is a generation of producers who are really interested in data and the systems that will make data accessible and easy to use.

That’s really the key – how do you make it accessible and useful to producers on different apps or platforms, where they can use it and ensure they don’t have to do too much to get a lot out of it.

It’s all about making it easy and seamless in the systems that we set up.

There are a lot of producers that are very good at what they do who may not necessarily see so much value in data. However, I think that presenting a good value proposition and tangible examples are all that is needed to show them how it will help develop their businesses.

Using data more effectively is a key component of MLA’s Digital Value Chain

Why is the Digital Value Chain Strategy important, particularly for producers?

You can't manage what you can't measure, and there’s not much on-farm that you can't measure. Having access to data will inform decisions and increase efficiencies - and hopefully profit - down the line. Digital technology is essentially about how we can make life easier for producers and stakeholders across the value chain, and there are a number of benefits to producers. It’s about understanding the value and power of data to ensure more informed decision-making.

The digital strategy will focus on making the value chain more agile and give users a real understanding of performance indicators, using objective data and syncing all of that together.

For example, producers could be intimidated by using an electronic National Vendor Declaration (eNVD) system, which we’re initiating now. However, the system is designed to reduce paperwork for producers and make it easierto comply with industry regulations.

MLA’s Single Sign On initiative, launching in early 2017, is another part of the digital strategy. Producers can look forward to streamlined access to the industry’s integrity databases through a single sign-on or login.

What’s the next step in developing the strategy?

To formulate a tangible strategy. What are the key activities we need to progress over the short, medium and long-term? We’ll look at further consultation in the next couple of months with a view to forming a final strategy by the end of March.

MLA held a workshop and in Brisbane on 6-7 October, outlining some of the emerging technological opportunities. Ninety stakeholders, mainly producers, helped identify the problems with the potential to be solved through digital technology. Eight key priorities were developed, starting with addressing connectivity issues.

We’re also looking at how we might scope and initiate an open data platform. Basically that’s identifying what industry data we have, how it can be attached to an open data platform and where it would be beneficial to link the data together.

Another priority is investigating precision technology across the value chain - from the farm right through to retail, food service and consumers. We're looking at what technology is needed and how we might use it to get closer to our consumers and understand them better, and to cement the integrity of the Australian red meat industry in international markets.

Developing industry competency and skills in this area is another priority.

And as I’ve said before, a key priority is enabling producers to easily comply with industry regulations.

Is there anywhere else in the world where a similar digital strategy has been developed for the red meat industry?

I don’t think there’s one country that has a solid digital strategy connecting the whole value chain. However, in terms of an open data platform, the Irish system is one example where industry has taken a lead in understanding how to effectively link data from individual animals on-farm right through to slaughter.

Essentially they’ve created a database using individual animal identification for a whole-of-life traceability to understand eating quality attributes and link that to genetics as well. There are certainly some different models that will crop up around the world that we can learn from.

Who is MLA working with on the strategy?

We’ll want to work with all stakeholders – from producers, feedlots and processors, through to retail and consumer. But we’ve also got other programs of work where we are partnering with other rural research and development corporations . For example, MLA is a major partner in the Precision to Decision project. It is part of the federal government’s Rural R&D for Profit program, and is aimed at designing a solution for the use of big data in agriculture.

For more information about the outcomes of the forum and workshop and to view the video presentations.

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