A growing number of large agribusinesses are using virtual reality as a practical tool to do everything from training staff to selling stock.
Virtual reality (VR) is a three-dimensional environment generated by computers or cameras, which people can explore using special headsets or mobile devices.
Once the stuff of games, the technology has now proved appealing to some of Australia’s biggest agriculturalists.
A new way to do business
Major farm equipment supplier Case IH is now looking at using the immersive technology.
“Training is where we want to take it,” company representative Scott Jericho said.
“With trainers in the US and Europe and everywhere else, we can interact with them on a live basis and look at product, whether it be whole goods training, parts training or service training.”
Case IH Australia is working with founder of Farm VR Tim Gentle, who specialises in producing 3D videos for the agriculture industry.
“We will live in a world where we’ll be surrounded by content,” Mr Gentle said.
“If agriculture doesn’t keep up with that thought process, we are going to be left behind.”
The former dairy farmer and jackaroo has also inspired well-known agricultural business Elders to invest.
It’s using 360-degree cameras to create immersive videos of livestock and equipment that are up for sale.
Paul Holm, the company’s livestock manager in Queensland, said the footage allowed buyers to do a more thorough inspection from anywhere around the country.
“We’ve always told people what they’re to look at when we’ve taken photos of livestock,” he said.
“With this there’s no hiding, everything is in 360 [degrees] so you can look at whatever you like to look at.
“You can really look down and see where they’re landing and how they’re landing.
“It’s very much raw footage, it’s very interactive and it’s very immersive.”
Queensland grazier Nick Cameron is hopeful the technology will change how he sells stock.
Many producers rely on photos to attract buyers in catalogues, newspapers and online, but this traditional approach to marketing can be challenging and time-consuming.
“I can give you five different photos of the same animal and you’ll think they’re five different animals,” Mr Cameron said.
“You’ve got to have the light right and getting the animal to stand the way you want it to stand, it’s a time-consuming process — plus, it involves a lot of squats.”
The manager of Nindooinbah Station said although he was optimistic about the technology, convincing the rest of the industry to invest would be difficult.
“The beef industry isn’t renowned for uptake of new technology,” he said.
“Beef producers are pretty shrewd with their return on investment, so if there looks to be a gain there for their business then I think they’ll take it up.”
Inspiring students through virtual reality
A potential big gain for the industry is using immersive technology to attract new blood.
Mr Gentle has turned a bus he won in a competition into a virtual reality experience on wheels, which he takes to schools across the country.
“When it comes to kids, what I’m trying to do is inspire them to take up ag as a career path,” he said.
“We have to make farming look sexy in one respect. We have to make it look exciting.
“So when they put the headset on they go into a whole new world, but they go into a farmer’s world, and that’s what I like.”
Students climb onboard the bus and don their VR headsets to discover how beef is produced from paddock to plate.
Even the less savoury parts of the supply chain are included, with a virtual tour of an abattoir.
At Karoonda Area School in the Murray Mallee region of South Australia, the experience was met with excitement.
“You went up in a helicopter flying over all this land and when you came down to the truck you could look out, there was cows everywhere,” Year 3 student Harrison Baumgurtel said.
“I didn’t know they hung the cows down and get all the blood out of them.
“I just thought they just killed them, then drained them, then put them on the plate and cooked them.”
The immersive beef experience was funded by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), the red meat industry’s marketing and research body.
It’s also produced a virtual lamb tour with Mr Gentle.
“We’ve actually gone from 59 per cent down to 37 per cent of people who have ever been to a livestock farm in the last nine years and we’re seeing the ages of those people reduce significantly,” MLA community engagement manager Jacqueline Baptista said.
“We know that we need to be on the front foot to keep engaging that up-and-coming generation.
“VR has actually given us a fabulous format to be able to present that sort of information to this generation.”