Perth-based SWAN Systems take water and nutrient management to the cloud – and the world
One very clear and immensely powerful theme continued to present itself when Tim Hyde, Ivor Gaylard and Rod Campbell were advising agricultural clients on precision irrigation and nutrient management.
“Whenever the growers we were working with managed both water and fertiliser well, we witnessed what can only be described as huge uplifts in production and profitability,” said Tim, CEO and Founding Director of SWAN Systems.
“We generally find water and nutrients make up for about 80 per cent of a crop’s success, realistically making it the greatest determining factor in efficiency and production, so it is incredibly important to get this right.
“The systems we were advising our clients to use were working extremely well, but there is only so much that can be done on a face-to-face consultancy basis.
“We saw a huge opportunity to put our systems in the cloud to give greater access to users, to scale our business and to have a meaningful impact on the sustainability and profitability of agriculture.”
Upon this realisation six years ago, Tim, Ivor and Rod set about designing, building and testing what evolved to become SWAN Systems. Today, the platform aggregates and processes data from more than 80 partners, 25% of which are domestic and 75% from overseas, on irrigation, soil moisture, weather and satellite imagery. This information is then used to help irrigation controllers plan weekly schedules, manage annual water use, and inform fertiliser and nutrient applications. Daily satellite crop imagery is also collected to track crop health, and to identify issues as quickly as possible, with more than 30,000 hectares and 4,000 sites managed daily.
Data-driven use of water and nutrient management, and the profound impact it has on both crop and business health, is by no means a new concept, with many hundreds of research projects investigating these critical inputs completed across the world. However, what’s lacking, as Tim explains it, is a cost-effective, easy-to-use system housing the solutions farmers need to achieve best practice, in one place.
“And that is exactly the space we are trying to fill at SWAN Systems,” he said.
“Our goal is to be the preferred operating system for enterprises that use irrigation, both here in Australia and across the world.”
Given the nucleus of the SWAN Systems model is the aggregation of innovation to facilitate better water and nutrient management, Tim and his team are in continual search of research and opportunities to grow the platform’s offering and scale the business.
This, Tim said, is where the AgriFutures growAG. platform has come into its own.
“growAG. helps by making us aware of what research is occurring and, once we know this, we can easily approach the researcher to discuss any potential commercial applications or synergies which may exist,” he said.
“Connecting the right researcher with the right outcome is especially important to our business. There is a lot of early-stage research which may not be applicable to us, but other work may fit us very well, and growAG. gives us the capability to look at what is available and identify potential strategic opportunities.
“Even if the technology and projects we home in on aren’t commercially ready, we will consider creating a partnership to provide more funding to the researchers to help them move to the level they need to be. This can be powerful as not only can we help extend the project, but we can also offer some commercial guidance through the process, so the final outcome is more commercially suitable.”
To date, growAG. has helped SWAN Systems establish two active relationships, with a further two parties in ongoing discussions with Tim and his team.
The other clear benefit growAG. has delivered has been a mechanism to monitor and evaluate barriers and challenges within the production systems of SWAN Systems’ target customers, and Tim regularly uses the platform for market scanning.
“Industry research should technically represent industry pain points or areas where efficiency and productivity gains can be made,” he said.
“growAG. has proven valuable in allowing us to see – by looking at what projects are listed – what industry priorities are. We can’t add value to a customer or industry unless we fully appreciate their challenges and strategic requirements.
“Prior to growAG. we often didn’t know what research projects existed, as there was no real mechanism, unless you really kept an eye on each state and federal research organisation.
“We often saw the same research being conducted across multiple crop types. It is a far more efficient use of funds if strategies and applications, which suit more than one crop are identified, and a more collaborative approach is taken.”
Six years into the SWAN Systems’ journey, market reach and the potential to scale have never been more important to the business. The West Coast of the United States presents a transformational opportunity, with more than 3.5 million hectares of irrigated agriculture in California alone. Ongoing severe dry conditions, similar to Australia’s Millennial drought, the doubling of farm staff wages over the last three years, and unprecedented social pressure demanding more sustainable use of water by primary producers has further created optimal market conditions for SWAN Systems in the US.
Tim regularly travels to California to spend time with the SWAN Systems team located there and said initiatives like growAG. are powerful in their ability to lift the international exposure of Australian innovation.
“We simply could not develop our systems purely for the Australian market as it is just too small and development costs would mean our business case just would not stack up,” he said.
“By spreading these costs over a larger market, we have an opportunity to offer a better and more sophisticated product to our own market, which can also mean a far more competitive price point for our customers.
“Initiatives like growAG., which are geared to better connect Australia’s agrifood innovation system to the world, can only help to grow local businesses, achieve more efficient use of funds, and expedite timelines to commercialisation, so as to have a meaningful impact on the production and profitability of agricultural businesses.”
Explore, find and connect with relevant research projects and innovation opportunities from across Australia’s agrifood innovation system at growag.com. To list a research project, commercialisation opportunity or organisation, please visit the submit page.