Willunga grape grower's app Europe-bound.
What do you get when a former Facebook game developer from London runs a McLaren Vale vineyard for a few years, and starts talking with the University of Adelaide’s ThincLab entrepreneurial accelerator in France? Simple: an incredibly exciting, multi-million-dollar international agricultural technology opportunity.
This improbable scenario is the real-life story of digital games producer turned grape grower Oli Madgett and his groundbreaking app, Platfarm. Designed to help grape growers maximise the efficiency of their land management practices, Platfarm draws on multiple information sources to provide contractors with precise, row-by-row instructions regarding required inputs and their quantities—all via a humble smartphone or tablet.
“The app sucks in imagery from things like satellites and drones, to show growers the variability of their land,” says Oli. “That allows growers and their contractors to draw out what’s called a prescription map, which shows where work needs to be carried out.
“Then when they’re out in the field, the app shows them in real time exactly where they are on the map; alerts them when they enter a ‘prescription zone’; advises what work’s required there; and, as they move through the zone, says when to stop or adjust what they’re doing.”
According to Oli, who bought his vineyard in 2014 after emigrating from England, it promises to help producers all over the world make significant financial gains.
“In grape growing, if you carry out work on your land more intelligently—by spreading the precise, ideal mix of compost and mulch, for example, for every individual square metre—you can even up the vigour of your blocks.
“That can take your grapes from grade B to A, which can earn you thousands more per hectare. Plus, you have the potential to save thousands in input costs, because you only use exactly what you need, and extract maximum benefit from it.”
Although currently focusing on the Australian grape industry, Oli says the European market—particularly France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Germany—is squarely in his sights.
Europe’s easily the biggest grape growing market in the world, and unquestionably represents a multi-million-dollar opportunity for us. So ThincLab’s assistance in France is going to be invaluable.Oli Madgett
Fortuitously based in Chalons in the heart of the iconic Champagne wine region, the French ThincLab team will be heavily involved in Platfarm’s European expansion. Their initial priorities, says Oli, will be leading the recruitment of a French intern with a passion for ag-tech to be the start-up’s first European-team member, and providing introductions to local growers.
“We’re going over there at the end of the next Australian vintage, around Easter 2018,” he says, “and the ThincLab team’s going to tap into their network to help us start directly engaging with the French grape growing community.
“We want to be a high-growth business, so we’re aiming to have at least a couple of thousand European growers using our app by 2020.”
For a relatively novice farmer, now entering only his third season, it’s a remarkable position to be in.
But being a natural entrepreneur, Oli can already see a day when the app—which could be equally useful for all kinds of pasture-dependent farming—expands well beyond even the global grape growing market.
“We can’t get ahead of ourselves, of course. We’re still in the early stages of attracting investment.
“But I have to admit, it’s getting very exciting.”