If you’re looking to get your hands on a new car, the latest phone, or gadget, chances are you’ve had to wait due to the worldwide shortage of semiconductor chips.

But the tech crisis isn’t just disrupting electronic manufacturers. It also affects farmers who are trying to modernize their operations.

Agritech entrepreneur Tom Mills developed a remote monitoring system but needed to redesign the product.

“For custom-made components, what we do now is basically look forward to what chips are available, buy those chips in advance, and then either design the equipment or design around it. to improve,” he said.

Chip shortages come at a difficult time as many farmers are coping with labor shortages and needing labor-saving technologies to improve productivity.

“We haven’t invested in this technology before, so we’re lagging behind,” Mills said.

“This is why a lot of the automation technology we see on dairy farms is being sourced from European countries, because for some time we have had to pay our staff in European countries more. ”

What caused the shortage of chips?

computer chip closeup
Electronics sales surged due to lockdowns and a surge in working from home.(Provided by: Axonite)

Semiconductor chips are the backbone of a vast array of electronic devices, but supplies have been limited since the outbreak of COVID-19.

The lockdown sparked a consumer electronics boom as workers and students rushed to buy devices to help them work from home.

While demand surged, supply was hit by a severe drought in Taiwan, crippling production of water-hungry chips by the world’s largest manufacturer, TSMC.

The shortage could ease as the COVID chaos subsides and the US rolls out more than $50 billion in stimulus to boost production.

Two men chat in an old tin pump shed on a large family farm.
Farmer Charlie McKinnon talks with agricultural technology provider Tom Mills at his family farm in Longford.(ABC Rural: Lachlan Bennett)

Meanwhile, early adopters such as Tasmanian farmer Charlie McKinnon are already benefiting from agricultural technology.

Before the remote monitoring system was installed, the Longford man spent hours each day driving around the property, checking all irrigation equipment and water pumps.

“If something goes wrong, we turn it off, go back to the pivot and fix the problem, go back to the pump and start it,” he said.

“And also go to bed with the irrigator running at night and wake up in the morning to see if anything is wrong.”

Tech Crunch is not limited to chips

A young proud woman in a wide-brimmed hat is standing in a field.
Agritech entrepreneur Fiona Turner of Bitwise Agronomy helps farmers facing labor challenges.(ABC Rural: Lachlan Bennett)

Due to labor constraints in the berry and viticulture sector, Fiona Turner founded Bitwise, an automated crop analysis company.

Software-centric startups were unaffected by chip shortages, but cloud computing was a problem.

“The global power shortage and rising costs will have a significant impact on the cost of using cloud providers,” said Turner.

“So we’re watching it very carefully.”

James sits at the crowded AG Tech desk, showing off one of his gadgets and smiling broadly.
Farm Pulse’s James Walsh said farmers aren’t worried about chip shortages because they’re already facing delays in new machines.(ABC Rural: Lachlan Bennett)

James Walsh, director of remote farming technology company Farm Pulse, said his company avoided the worst effects of the shortage by not relying on a single technology or manufacturer.

But they still had to “manage expectations”.

“Anyone who is in technology and trying to source raw materials has a problem,” he said.

“But most of our clients have been very understanding, because they realize that everything is lacking at this point.”

Despite the challenges, Walsh said the chip shortage hasn’t affected demand.

“Progressive farmers are always looking for that edge,” he said.

“Agriculture is so booming right now that people want efficiency for when things get a little tougher, so they are willing to spend money on technology.”

Creative solutions to chipper challenges

In a sprawling tin shack, Andrew hoists a large black drone about the size of an arm span.
Andrew Willoughby, Tech Solutions Hub Manager at the University of Tasmania, says drones have great potential to improve productivity on Australian farms.(ABC Rural: Lachlan Bennett)

According to Andrew Willoughby, Tech Solutions Hub Manager at the University of Tasmania, those who didn’t have access to technology were creative.

“Chips are really hard to come by, and some students are now making their own chips, making their own chips for use in robotics and other electrical components,” he said. rice field.

“As part of their course, they’ve gone further than expected.”


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