Author Archives: FRAN

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AgTech….So What Podcast – Peter Thompson (responding to climate risk)

Peter Thompson and his wife Nicki run EchoCattle, a roughly 18,000 acre property  located 80km northeast of Roma, in southern central Queensland, Australia. They run a grass-fed beef operation and crop around 3,000 acres, depending on the season, with an additional 6,00 acres of wilderness country. 

As of this year, their house block (~10,000 acres) will have been in the Thompson family for 70 years. They’ll also celebrate their 42nd anniversary together. 

The Thompson’s have been farming regeneratively long before it was a ‘thing’. In this episode, Peter shares his hard-earned insights about:

  • Finding compromises that are truly win-win;
  • Avoiding the temptation of silver bullet solutions;
  • The long list of technologies they’ve adopted; and
  • The importance of balance. 

“I see the technology being able to give us the ability to help people understand and connect people so that they realize that it’s not me as the farmer doing whatever might be perceived as bad for the environment. It’s you and me and everyone else that eats and drinks and lives. We’re all complicit in it, so if we can virtually connect everyone and connect people back… I still believe we’ve got significant time to turn things around, if we start now”

Searching for Win-Wins and Breaking Tradeoffs

The Thompson’s property is home to forty coal seam gas wells, which are some of the first drilled in Australia. Knowing that the world needs energy, and because they loved where they lived, Peter and Nicki made the conscious decision to find a way to have the wells and still look after the land. 

They started by putting some principles in place. First, protect the land. Second, ensure the property continued to be livable for the family. And finally, make sure their operation wasn’t at risk. They also did their homework to ensure that they understood the impact these wells would have on the environment. 

Once Peter decided to have the wells, he needed to figure out a new model for compensation. The original approach from the gas company was to pay producers with “a few cartons of beer and tickets to the rugby.” That didn’t fly with the Thompsons. Instead, they worked with the gas company to develop a compensation package that took the well from being worth a few thousand dollars per year, to “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The financial benefits of the gas wells have been a significant support, especially during dry times. Further, Peter is proud of the compromise that they reached, and that they were able to reach it without compromising the wellbeing of the land or the water. Peter’s approach was pragmatic, but grounded in a commitment to sustainability and vision that the environment and enterprise can work hand in hand.  

“We must consider humanity and the environment in everything we do”

Beware of ‘Silver Bullets’

Back in the 90’s, hormone growth promotants (HGP’s) were all the rage, enabling producers to get top dollar for glossy, muscled cattle. For Peter and Nicki, this just didn’t seem right, so they turned to grass fed production instead. Some called him mad, but he stuck to his guns. 

It turned out to be a great decision that has paid off. Just two years later, the big supermarkets were refusing to sell any beef with traces of growth promotants. And now, Peter’s grass fed beef commands a premium.  

As much as we all wish there was a silver bullet, farming- like life- just doesn’t work that way. Farming practices and technologies that take time and consideration are more often than not where producers strike gold.

Netflix and No Till

Conversations about connectivity in agriculture often focus on the potential productivity benefits from the technologies that an internet connection can enable. Peter has certainly explored these new and emerging tools, from walk over weighing to pasture mapping to water monitoring, Echo Cattle is a progressive operation in terms of technologies as well as practices. They also recently hosted a field day where, despite being “80kms from anywhere,” guests had “city style” wifi access. 

With the significant investment Peter has made into connectivity comes another benefit: Netflix. Farmers and their staff don’t farm 24/7, and so, like the rest of us, they love a chance to rewind with a movie at the end of the day. A fast internet connection also helps staff keep in touch with family and friends. Peter has seen the benefits in terms of quality of life as well as retention.

In the future? Maybe he’ll be live streaming from his drone, too.

Want to learn more about Peter and some of the technologies he’s using? Check these out:


This episode is the fourth in the theme, responding to climate risk, brought to you in partnership with Australian Farm Institute, an independent organisation conducting research into the strategic issues facing Australian farmers and the agriculture sector. Find them on social media @AustFarmInstitu an online

Shark Farmer Podcast – Tara Beaver Coronado doesn’t do sour grapes

Tara Beaver Coronado has had some major curve balls in her life. However, this grape farmer won’t let that stop her from trying to destroy agriculture stigmas.

check out this thing: Ag Now Digital Magazine

What the Farm Podcast – Trevor McBane singing goat farmer

Trevor McBane is a goat farmer from Oklahoma but what sets him apart is how he relentlessly pursued his dreams and auditioned for American Idol. Although he didn’t win he finished in the top 25. He talks about all the unexpected doors it has opened and what he’s doing now!

Idle Chatter Podcast – Hot Rod Farmer: Buyer beware… gasoline brands are different!

What you need to know before you pull up to the pump.

Salt of the Earth Podcast – Cashel Blue Cheese

Cashel Blue is a 100% family farmhouse, blue cheese production, located near the historic town of Cashel in Co. Tipperary.  The focus is very much on quality cheese production, linked with a desire to keep the family living and working on the family farm. In this episode, Co-owner, Sarah Furno provides some background to this innovative Tipperary farming enterprise, making a range of cheese for the home and export markets.

Rock and Roll Farming Podcast – Tackling Rural Crime

Tackling Rural Crime

The NFU Mutual Rural Crime Report 2019 is out, and Will is in the Scottish Borders to talk through the findings and what’s changed in the last year. He’s joined by a number of different people on the front line of tackling rural crime and offering practical help and advice to combat the problem.

Future of Agriculture Podcast – Farming in Space with Dr Ray Wheeler of NASA

Dr. Ray Wheeler is NASA’s Plant Physiologist and the lead for Advanced Life Support Research activities in the Exploration Research and Technology Program at Kennedy Space Center. He began his career at NASA in 1988 and the bulk of his research revolved around the use of hydroponic techniques for space farming experiments. One of Ray’s goals is to allow humanity to grow safe and nutritious crops off the Earth.

Ray joins me today to discuss some of NASA’s recent developments regarding planting crops in space. He shares some of the systems and tech that have been made commercial in the ag industry and explains why it’s difficult to experiment with plants in space. Ray also describes some of the benefits of being able to grow plants on other planets.

“We’ve been trying to manipulate the environment to accommodate plants. Now we have the tools to manipulate plants to fit into the environment.” – Dr. Ray Wheeler

This Week on The Future of Agriculture Podcast:

  • The research he’s conducted that has made it in today’s agriculture industry.
  • How NASA helped in terrestrial applications of space farming.
  • His recent projects that could be applied commercially in the future.
  • Solving the ever-increasing CO2 emissions with space farming tech.
  • Recent progress on the experimental planting chambers in space.
  • Deciding which crops show promise for space production.
  • The water content of Mars and the prospect of someday growing food there.
  • The critical benefits of being able to grow plants in space.
  • Recovering as much water as possible in space.
  • The effects of low gravity environments on plant growth.
  • His advice for people interested in space farming technology.

Resources Mentioned:

Connect with Dr. Ray Wheeler:

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Shark Farmer Podcast – Ryan Valk is nuts

Ryan Valk came back to his California ranch and turned it into an almond farm. Listen to how this young farmer’s ambition is changing the way you’ll think about your nuts.

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What the Farm Podcast – Frank M. Mitloehner, All Ph.D. and no BS

Are you sick of hearing “Meatless Mondays” will save the planet? Listen as Frank Mitloehner explains the truth in a way you’ve never heard before.

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AgTech..So What Podcast – Live Q&A with Dan Harburg of IndigoAg

Our guest for the August Sydney Agtech Meetup was Dan Harburg. Dan is a Senior Director of Systems Innovation at Indigo Ag, one of agtech’s biggest startups. Born in Boston, Indigo Ag has raised over $650 million and employ over 1,000 staff. They are now expanding internationally, making their way into the European, Australian and South American markets. 

Originally from a tech background and an engineer by training, Dan was bitten by the ag bug while working in robotics. After a stint as a VC, Dan been focused on how to harness emerging technologies to improve agriculture. Dan was visiting Australia from Boston, Massachusetts to attend the National Carbon Farming Conference and we were lucky enough to steal him for a Friday night at the Meetup to chat about the IndigoAg journey and their recently launched Terraton Initiative that’s making waves across the agtech industry.

Check out this episode to hear: 

  • What IndigoAg does to achieve their missing of ‘helping farmers harness nature to sustainably feed the planet’
  • The evolutions of the IndigoAg business model, from selling a microbial seed coating, to marketing grain, to developing on-farm storage and freight and logistics offerings. 
  • Just how fast IndigoAg is growing, and the challenges that a startup faces during rapid expansion
  • What IndigoAg is doing to help growers benefit, and whether this is (or isn’t) working in Australian agriculture 
  • The Terraton Initiative, including what it is, why growers have already pledged 3 million acres, and how agtech startups can get involved
  • Dan’s view on the shift that farmers are making from focusing on driving yield, to optimizing profits

You can check out Dan Harburg on Twitter and LinkedIn and IndigoAg on Twitter.

Thank you to SproutX who sponsor the meetup and to Grow Love Project for producing this episode.