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Tech and innovation key to sustainability: ag minister

Federal agriculture minister Murray Watt has told a major agriculture conference that ag tech and innovation are key to the sector achieving sustainability.


AI expert Nina Schick delivers a keynote address at this year's evokeAG conference in Perth, Tuesday, February 20, 2024. Image AAP

Embracing ag tech and innovation is key to dealing with sustainability in the sector, a major agricultural conference has been told.


"Australia's always been a world leader when it comes to agricultural technology," the federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said on the opening day of the evokeAg conference in Perth.


"It's one of the reasons why our sector's become so much more productive and profitable," he said.


More than a thousand delegates from 19 countries have descended on Perth for the two-day conference.


Delivering one of the keynote speeches, Senator Watt also announced the opening of a $45 million partnerships and innovation grant opportunity. 


The grants are designed to help innovators build their knowledge in responding to the impacts of climate change.


"We're delivering on immediate needs and we're planning ahead to take the sector forward, with technology and innovation at the core," Senator Watt told the conference.

Agriculture Minister Murray Watt announced the opening of a $45 million grant at the evokeAg event.


The audience was also told how exponential technologies are coming faster and faster, with the need for producers and those in the ag sector to adapt.


"There are huge challenges ahead, but also huge opportunities, and I think that AI is going to be an integral part of ensuring you can make that transition," AI expert Nina Schick said in her keynote speech.


Start-ups, investors, producers and innovators are among those at the conference. 


Matthew Pryor from Tenacious Ventures, which helps raise capital for companies in the food supply chain, said evokeAg was an important tool for start-ups to gain traction. 


"It's an opportunity for Australian early stage companies to really shine and get national attention," Mr Pryor said.


"AI is just scratching the surface of what will become a really important tool."


John Pattinson, from former agricultural start-up Goanna Ag, said the company had expanded into the United States since gaining exposure at the event. 


"We have had commercial partnerships that are as a direct result of evokeAg," Mr Pattison said.


While in Western Australia, Senator Watt met with sheep producers who are furious about the Albanese government's planned phase-out of live exports.


But WA Farmers president John Hassell boycotted the meeting, which he had requested, saying farmers are being treated with contempt.


"We actually asked for the meeting, then we finally get a request for (federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt) to meet with him, with the people of his choice, not the people we asked for," Mr Hassell said.


Farmers have also been unhappy about the handling of the livestock export ship the MV Bahijah, which was forced to return to port in the state this month after five-and-a-half weeks at sea.


"It (the meeting) was only for half an hour, not enough time to do anything really," Mr Hassell said.


Senator Watt said he was taken aback by Mr Hassell's absence at Monday's meeting between the minister and representatives of WA Farmers.


"I was a bit surprised Mr Hassell boycotted a meeting that he demanded we have, but we had a respectful discussion with those who did turn up," Senator Watt said.


"It was a respectful meeting that gave me a chance to set the record straight on the department's handling of the MV Bahijah issue."


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