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Ros Harvey, founder and managing director of The Yield Technology Solutions

This blog comes from Ros Harvey, founder and managing director of The Yield Technology Solutions, an Australian agricultural technology company on a mission to transform food and farming practices with scalable digital technology. Ros has been recognized for her influence and leadership, receiving AFR’s 100 Women of Influence in Innovation and the Women’s Agenda Leadership Emerging Leader in Technology award. She recently spoke at Women Rock-IT event. To hear more from Ros, click here to view the video on demand.

The Yield Technology Solutions is an Australian agricultural technology company founded in 2014. We use Internet of Things (IoT), data science, and artificial intelligence (AI) to power our patented technology to solve real challenges for growers at farm level and throughout the food chain.

The Yield is on a mission to transform food and farming practices with scalable digital technology. Our Sensing+ microclimate solution provides information and predictions that help growers make important decisions like when to irrigate, feed, plant, protect, and harvest. The Yield helps to take the guesswork out of growing.

Food is fundamental to human experience and food production has a huge impact on the world’s resources – in fact, 70 percent of the world’s water is used in agriculture. My passion for the environment and commitment to a more sustainable future is what drove the creation of The Yield.

Since its inception, The Yield has become one of our industry’s fastest growing technology success stories and we’re backed by several leading global businesses including Bosch, Yamaha Motor Ventures, KPMG and Microsoft.

Career progression through STEM

I have a strong commitment to creating public good with private effort through innovative uses of technology, founding the globally-recognized Better Work and Sense-T programs – both of which have strong novel technology underpinnings.

In the early 2000s, I worked in Cambodia for the United Nation’s International Labour Organization (ILO) on a donor-funded project in the apparel sector. We transformed this project into Better Factories Cambodia which was a market-driven approach to using technology and data to improve working conditions in apparel factories.

A key innovation was that international buyers paid for a cloud-based information service on working conditions in factories with data collected by the ILO. We then shared the data across the value chain including with governments, factories, researchers, and unions. Within four years, 80 percent of apparel factories, by value of production, had signed up. It was supported by such global brands as Nike, Gap, Levis, and Marks and Spencer.

The brands asked us to make the initiative global. We partnered with the World Bank’s private sector development arm – the International Finance Corporation, to help scale the program globally. I was inspired by the power of technology to transform women’s lives through improving working conditions and for operating at scale. We were never going to change the world one factory at a time. We needed to create a technology able to reach a whole industry across international boundaries.

In 2006, I moved to Geneva and founded, Better Work, a global program which was based on the partnerships and the work achieved in Cambodia.

Better Work is now a flagship program for both organizations in the field of labour standards and corporate social responsibility. It harnesses the market demand from international buyers for socially responsible products to create quality export opportunities for developing countries.

To meet buyer demand, the program works at the enterprise level to improve productivity, quality, and working conditions. Better Work collects data which is sold as a service to some of the world’s biggest brands and their factories. That data is given to governments to improve governance and to the international research community to create new knowledge. It is the largest data based on working conditions in the apparel supply chain.

Better Work currently operates in nine countries covering 2.4 million workers in Cambodia, Egypt, Vietnam, Indonesia, Haiti, Nicaragua, Jordan, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh.

A sustainable future – The origins of The Yield

In 2010, I returned home to Tasmania. There’s not a lot of apparel factories in Tasmania, but it is home to an amazing agriculture and fresh produce industry. I realised that I could easily transition the skills that I had learnt from one industry to another. It was during this time that I founded Sense-T.

At the time, Sense-T was a ground breaker in the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data in Tasmania. We used data, sensing, and telemetry technologies and data analytics to help see alignments and opportunities, to improve decision-making and create real impact.

Sense-T brings researchers, industry, government, and the community together to foster innovation across such industries as agriculture, aquaculture, tourism, and health. By working collaboratively in a partnership model, Sense-T solves real-world problems and creates solutions that can be applied across Australia and the world.

From Sense-T, the origins of The Yield were created. With my passion for the environment, I wanted to focus on how we could leverage digital technology data to achieve better research outcomes and support environmental sustainability.

I instilled in The Yield a strong purpose – our mission is to feed the world without wrecking the planet. We also have a strong commitment to do public good with private effort.

About this time, I co-founded the Food Agility Cooperative Research Centre, in Sydney, Australia, which links researchers, government, technology, and food companies in a common endeavor to transform food supply chains using technology in practical projects. We wanted to change the way research is done. We provide data, with our customers’ agreement, for researchers to create new knowledge. We can then quickly get the results out of the lab into our customers’ hands using our platform and solutions. For example, improving yield predictions to match market conditions and achieving better prices, reducing waste and saving money in harvesting and logistics.

Technology driving change in agriculture

Every aspect of our economy is undergoing a technology revolution driven by data and the falling cost of technology hardware. We can collect, analyze, and leverage data in a way that has previously not been possible. This enables the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data to solve complex problems with real outcomes. Right now, agriculture is lagging in technology adoption in comparison to other sectors, such as banking and finance.

The biggest uncertainty in agriculture is of course, the weather –and that’s the problem that The Yield is seeking to solve. Weather uncertainty and critical resources like water are scarcer and therefore more expensive. We must change the way we grow things to do more with less. Technology will change the way food is produced around the world – making it more efficient and sustainable. It is also the key to helping us deal with the impacts of climate change.

Making a difference – an agent for change

I’ve been lucky to enjoy an extraordinarily diverse career – working internationally with the UN and World Bank, academia, government, social enterprise, and now a tech startup. I aim to make a difference in my various roles and each step in my career has brought me significant highlights and milestones, coupled with moments of real pride.

I see The Yield as a culmination of these deep and diverse experiences. To tackle something which is very important to me, to address real world challenges to feed people without wrecking the planet.