Imagine standing in the middle of a hot field, sweat dripping down your back, the sound of cows and goats in the distance and flies attacking your face. Before you lies a vast, vine-covered hill — on the other side of which is the nearest internet antennae.
Now imagine that climbing that hill was the only way to communicate at speed with the outside world.
Such is life for a significant proportion of the 304,200 people directly employed by the agricultural sector in Australia, a huge industry that manages 48% of the country’s enormous landmass and has long struggled to connect to communication networks.
“Two-thirds of Aussie farmers have problems with mobile coverage,” Agrinet, an Australian startup dedicated to bringing internet to the farms, says on its website. “If you’re sick of slow internet and unreliable mobile coverage we can help”.
The company, set up by Daniel Winson, offers to install solar-powered WiFi repeaters across farms — bringing internet to the house, the car, and the sheds. The impact on connectivity would be as enormous as the farms themselves: the average Aussie farm covers 4,331 hectares — equivalent to over 6,000 football pitches.
Proper internet coverage would enable farmers to set up additional technology like WiFi-connected security cameras or weather stations and sensors, which could help make agricultural work safer and more efficient.
The idea has been so well received that Winson and his company had been recognised as one of SparkLabs Cultiv8 startups of the year.
While a rural internet revolution would have obvious benefits for farmers, there would be a second — and unexpected — group of grateful beneficiaries: backpackers. Huge numbers of travellers work on Australian farms every year, as part of visa requirements to spend the equivalent of three months working full-time in a regional area.
The Government is amusingly strict about what does and does not meet the requirements for qualifying work: Yes to picking fruits on an orchard and herding cattle on a farm, no to ‘being a nanny on a farm’ or ‘cooking on a mine site’.
It’s easy to see how such individuals could feel vulnerable — or at least uncomfortable — working in isolated environments without a ready ability to contact friends and family. Agrinet’s innovation could be just the project they need to feel empowered. Either that, or give them more time to stream Netflix TV shows.