Latest OutofBox Solutions News
Mar 7, 2018
By Sue White OutofBox Solutions co-founders Supriya Nair and Jay Nai. For city dwellers, it’s easy to think that working in agriculture involves living on a farm and working the land. Well, maybe it once did, but today, the field of agtech (agricultural technology) means new jobs, usually aimed at helping farmers become more efficient or profitable. Sam Trethewey knows the ins and outs of both worlds. He grew up farming wool, beef, hay and cereals on his family’s property outside Geelong, but soon realised he wanted to branch out. He began working for other farmers across the country learning how to farm everything from cotton to lamb. “I made it my mission to move around and learn how to grow new things every few years,” he says. Trethewey soon discovered a common thread: many of the highest performing farmers were willing to pick up new technologies and challenge themselves. Then, synchronicity stepped in. While completing an MBA and working for the National Farmers’ Federation, Trethewey was asked to head the peak body’s new agtech accelerator program, SproutX, which aims to bring innovators, investors and the agri-community together to help build Australia’s agtech industry. Advertisement Sam Trethewey was never content simply working his family's farm. “Given Australia is the second least subsidised agricultural economy in the world … and has some of the highest costs of production … technology is really the only way we are going to be able to sustainably increase our food and fibre production, and the only way to increase our output,” Trethewey says. What this means for jobs is still evolving. “It’s a very new industry, especially in Australia. There aren’t many companies yet doing agtech where you can just go and get a job. It’s mostly co-founders and entrepreneurs,” he says. Still, Trethewey says some corporates (think KPMG, John Deere, and larger companies with an interest in agriculture) may have jobs grooming data, fixing technologies, and using apps they’ve acquired or developed. However, opportunities abound for the entrepreneurially minded. “Australian agriculture is a conservative industry, and for a long time you’ve had to have the right last name, or come from a farming family to have a go. Now, we’re attracting talented people from robotics or computer science backgrounds, coders, and people with wonderful technology backgrounds that are coming in with passion and helping solve agricultural problems,” he says. One of those people is Supriya Nair. Prior to co-founding her business, Out of Box Solutions, which aims to use technology to help with feral animal detection, she chalked up seventeen years experience in tech, but none on farms. A casual chat with a farmer taught Nair that there was opportunity to bring her experience delivery technological solutions to farmers. She then joined the SproutX accelerator, where learned how to figure out what problems farmers needed solving. “Farmers are very savvy. They do get it [technology] and helped us shape the solution, as they could identify where the challenges lay: things like weather, power and connectivity,” she says. Nair now has a product at prototype stage, but even better, has found an industry where her skills are sorely needed. “It’s very exciting. The problems are very real and there’s a sense of urgency in the solutions: that’s a driving factor for us,” she says.