The internet economy brought the concept of "e-agribusiness" to rural and regional Australia last week at the annual Mildura Field Day.
The wine-growing region's trade event was the occasion for internet startup Freshport to test the market for a suite of browser-based farm management tools. The new company, a brand of tradeport.com, targets what it sees as a desire by farmers to improve their productivity using the web.
According to Geoff Cooper, Freshport's director of sales and marketing, the company will use an application service provider model to offer farmers tools for tracking and reporting a wide range of data integral to running their operations.
Cooper said his research indicates that far more farmers are online than is commonly thought, and that they are eager to overcome their relative isolation using the internet. Responses to Freshport's presence in Mildura, he said, were overwhelmingly positive.
Coverage and bandwidth issues are obviously crucial to the success of any such initiative, and the Freshport site is correspondingly "plain vanilla", without a lot of unnecessary graphics to slow the process down.
While the principles could apply to almost any form of agriculture, Freshport is first targeting the wine-growing segment, in the areas of quality management and supply chain management.
In just one example, growers must record and report their pesticide spraying regimes to the wineries they supply. The Freshport site offers a Chemical Spray Diary, which allows a grower to create a record and information database of all chemical spray applications, and to communicate them instantly by email. Information can flow both ways, with the site also aiming to provide detailed spray product information to farmers.
Another module offers a Crop Maturity calculation service. Subscribers will be able to purchase a number of individual "modules" on an annual basis. In time, Cooper hopes to be able to offer other critical information such as long-range weather forecasts.
Cooper added: "We think the people in the bush are quite savvy, and their uptake of the internet seems to be increasing at a faster pace than in urban areas."