Commissioner, Australian Competition & Consumer Commission
The agriculture sector in Australia is about to experience some major changes, as a consequence of some global forces that are disrupting many established business models globally. Universal access to telecommunications and information is removing many of the geographic boundaries that formerly defined regional or national markets, making it possible for Australian farmers to directly compete in overseas markets, and vice versa. The ever-shrinking cost of digital technology and computing power is making it possible to remotely monitor and control agricultural production systems to a degree not even imaginable just a decade ago. The associated development of digital platforms and big data analytics has the potential to rapidly and objectively inform farmer decision-making in real time in ways that a traditional agronomist could not hope to match. When combined with the consolidation occurring in the farm input sectors (especially agrichemicals) it is possible to envisage a future where farm inputs are packaged with information and decision-support services provided by major agrichemical corporations, and independent agronomy advisors are relegated to a marginal role servicing small-scale and niche producers. Exactly what these changes will mean for future competition in the agriculture sector is a challenging question, and equally as challenging is the need to respond with policies that maintain competition in the sector, but do not inhibit technological development.