When Jess and Matt Fealy met at 5 years old neither could have predicted where they are now. In 2013 the couple and their four kids took on the task of managing a large scale horticultural farm in Far North Queensland. The Fealy’s farming enterprise Blue Sky Produce is entirely managed on-site from grading, packing, transport, marketing and selling facilities. Blue Sky produce avocados, mangoes and Tahitian limes for the Australian and export markets on a 153 acre property outside Mareeba, QLD.
Jess and Matt share four key insights from implementing technology in their production system and how their fresh approach to farming allowed them to be open to innovation.
This episode is the third of four that we will be releasing on the theme of Getting Agtech Ready. This theme is brought to you in partnership with Decipher.
Keep it simple!
Matt and Jess’s approach to innovation is to keep it simple. Rather than thinking you need to completely overhaul your production system and purchase the latest technology and sensors, lean into the low-hanging fruit of innovation. For Matt and Jess, using automated irrigation systems and a reliable farm business management platform have been the key changes that have made a difference.
For producers wondering how to get started implementing innovation on their farms, the best way to start is to start small. Simple changes using proven and accessible technologies have been the drivers to Blue Sky’s success.
Look at what’s coming next
Matt’s passion for finding innovation for the horticulture industry saw him receive a Nuffield Scholarship in 2017 investigating the use of robotics and automation in horticulture. His research trips allowed him to study robotic production systems in Israel, Germany, the USA, and South America.
While automation of the horticultural industry is certainly an exciting prospect, much of the technology is still early. But even when that technology is further advanced, it will still perform better in specific environments. Matt and his staff have made changes to the so it is best prepared for automation. For example, making the rows of avocados narrower and as two dimensional as possible so that when truly robotic harvesters are available, the farm will be ready to implement them straight away.
Deep understanding of emerging technology’s capabilities and limits will help producers better ready themselves for potential changes, and prepare their farms to best take advantage of new technology.
Build consumer pull, even in a commodity game
When they first established the farm, Matt and Jess recall that after their first season they were left with a ‘mango mountain’ of discarded mangoes. The Fealys quickly realised that in order to succeed, they would need to draw consumers to their brand first, and product sales would follow.
The Fealys decided boost Blue Sky’s brand awareness through visual storytelling on social media. Using Instagram as their main platform, Jess set out posting relatable content about their kids, workers, on-farm mishaps and their three-legged dog Beau.
Matt says their aim behind marketing through Instagram was to have customers become loyal purchasers of Blue Sky produce, and gain new customers and wholesale buyers through this brand awareness.
With provenance marketing becoming a key driver in the Australian agricultural produce market, Matt and Jess have used their social media and a brand persona to create greater connection and more reliable sales for their Blue Sky produce.
Leverage the skills and insights of those around you
Another key enabler of implementing new agricultural technology is a willingness to draw on skills and ideas wider than your own. Jess believes that the agriculture industry must set their sights further than individual agtech readiness, instead looking to also utilise talent from beyond the farm gate.
“There is an opportunity that's presenting itself for bright, young kids to be able to stay in rural communities and make real change and earn great money rather than having to go to the city to establish their careers”
One example of this is the Future Agro Challenge (FAC), which helps to connect farming & agtech communities and help with the exchange of knowledge. The FAC is a global competition that discovers innovative food, agtech, and agriculture ventures from across the world, providing key tools and opportunities for entrants to grow their business and expand into new markets.
Another example of this was Matt and Jess talking with their neighbours, discussing planting methods, varieties and best practices to manage their property.
The path to finding and implementing new technology is a long road, and best when travelled together. No one person has to have all the answers. Having an open mind and access & openness to diverse sources of information and innovations is the only way to be across a field as diverse and fast moving as agtech.