New devices and systems are making today's agribusinesses far more capable and proficient says Conor Roberts.

A range of trends are turning farming into a tech business. However, more needs to be done to retain our competitive edge in the global market.

There is a growing technological divide in rural-based businesses and it risks holding back the wider economy. Though some rural businesses are quick to take up new technology, many others take a wait-and-see approach to new ways of operating.

It's a risky strategy in the current age-of-change and could see many businesses fall behind.

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According to the MYOB Business Monitor survey, close to half (47 per cent) of business owners in the agricultural sector say they are slow or reluctant to embrace technological advancements, in stark contrast to the 28 per cent of their metropolitan counterparts who say the same.

Just 5 per cent consider themselves "early adopters" of new technology. We found the numbers a little surprising.

We also asked rural business how significantly they expected their industry to be changed by technology over the coming decade. Concerningly almost one in five operators expects no change from technology, with 47 per cent expecting only slight change and 34 per cent expecting significant change.

There are clearly some amazing technological advancements happening in our rural sector. From advanced automated milking sheds, to using on-farm internet-of-things sensors and drones to manage nutrient applications, to the importance of biological sciences to breeding — a range of trends are turning farming into a tech business.

However, more needs to be done to retain our competitive edge in the global market.

New Zealand must guard against the on-farm digital divide, where some businesses race ahead, willing to embrace technological developments, while others fail to keep up.

There's clearly going to be a lot of change in the rural economy. The important thing is farmers and rural-based businesses are open to new ways of working to help them get ahead.

According to the research, 28 per cent of rural businesses rated connectivity as a trend that will impact their business in the coming decade, followed by use of drones (20 per cent) and automation/robotics (18 per cent).

New devices and systems are making today's rural businesses far more capable and proficient, and the uptake is encouraging further investment in research, development and tech-based infrastructure.

At MYOB we're building the next generation of software tools to help rural businesses achieve greater levels of productivity and profitability. Our software solutions are there to simplify business management, so rural business owners can focus on the things that matter to them.

We're also stepping up our investment in areas like artificial intelligence, to help provide deeper insights into how businesses are performing and introducing new agricultural-focused functionality to allow cloud-based tracking of specific on-farm quantities such as changes in stock levels, amount of milk sold, weight of grain and wool produced — giving farmers a deeper understanding of their business.

Cloud-based systems mean farmers and their advisers can now work in real time.

Managing the books has gone from just accounting for what's happened in the past to providing insights to make decisions about the future, based on accurate up-to-date information.

Farmers can now check financials like cash flow instantaneously — often via their mobile.


That's why enhancing connectivity across our rural communities is so important.

These changes need not be daunting. The most important thing is for rural business owners to stay curious. There is a lot of information available to help owners take advantage of new technology trends.

We'd encourage farmers and rural business owners to talk to their accountants or advisers about what cloud accounting, payroll and business management solutions are available to help them improve the efficiency of their operations. Ensuring you are across the numbers gives you more control over the business and the best chance of managing through the bad times and capitalising on the good ones. Data is becoming as important as daylight to running a farm.

Supporting rural business owners to innovate and invest in new digital and physical technologies will ensure New Zealand agriculture retains a competitive advantage.

Conor Roberts is public affairs manager for MYOB.