Founder Stories

Connecting with Smart Paddock to deliver smart tech to an ancient industry

Founded by Darren Wolchyn, Smart Paddock uses animal management data, tagging, weather prediction, and sensor networks to help farmers manage and care for their herds
“Skalata is a completely different animal in the Australian VC world. They've been great at pushing us to progress our company, while helping us think international from day one.”
Darren Wolchyn
Founder & CEO
,
Smart Paddock

Australia's next $100 billion industry isn’t energy or ecommerce or electric vehicles. It’s AgTech. 

Thanks to our legacy of working with the land, our agricultural industry has the potential to become one of the most competitive, advanced, and efficient in the world. In 2019, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) set an ambitious target to hit that $100 billion by 2030

That means a requisite growth rate of 4.5% a year - almost triple the average 1.7% rate of the past decade.

To start boosting the numbers, the ancient industry must rid itself of the blockers holding it back, like key decisions being made on experience, tradition, and gut feel; labour shortages; low succession rates; and desperately slow uptake of new technology.

The cost of these blockers is real. The most efficient farms can produce beef from $0.52 per kg, while it costs the least efficient up to $4.95 per kg.

To survive, agriculture will also need to attract some new tenants. And it’s not easy work.

The next generation of farmers will be tech-native millennials. Their risks - in terms of the changing climate - will be unprecedented. And their customers' demands will be infinitely more complex - dairy and meat alternatives, organic produce, ethical treatment, sustainable practices, grass-fed animals, even rewilded land.

Meet the founder

Smart Paddock founder Darren Wolchyn once helped build a GPS fleet tracking system for golf carts. In 2017, he turned his technical expertise to a more complex beast: animal management. 

In a nutshell, Smart Paddock’s Bluebell tag technology couples with web dashboard monitors for farmers. It reports on animal and biometric data, animal security and location, animal health and wellbeing, pedigree management, animal performance, animal activity, and pasture utilisation.

Farmers can pinpoint the location of every cow, sheep, and chicken on a 15 minute refresh rate, across even the most remote locations, reducing incidences of lost or stolen animals.

In Australia alone, there is over $700m in preventable cattle loss every year, and Darren wanted to reduce this number dramatically.

Meet the problem

Smart Paddock had the tech, they just needed the tags.

They came to Skalata with an advanced product and some initial investment, but needed more to start producing real volume. Our initial investment allowed them to manufacture 200 tags and close a first sale to the Northern Territory Government, followed by another 500 to pursue new customers. 

Fast forward to today and Smart Paddock is fulfilling 40,000 unit orders for customers like the University of Saskatchewan. 

Making Smart Paddock even smarter 

Skalata worked with Smart Paddock on three central areas of focus: hardware improvement, sales strategy, and insight collection.

Hardware improvement

All groundbreaking tech needs space for testing and iteration. A number of technical issues cropped up during Smart Paddock’s first deployment. The team worked to improve testing, manufacturing, lead times, and assembly, hiring an additional team member to accelerate improvements. 

The team refined their development tools and built a more robust product roadmap to scale. Smart Paddock now collects 10 million data points a year. With every data point, animal behaviour models become smarter, enabling previously impossible feats like finding calving cows shortly after birth.

They’re also able to offer a low barrier for customer uptake by integrating with national LoRaWAN networks and using existing farm sensors. 

Sales strategy‍

Smart Paddock developed a greater understanding of its target audience, and put in place the sales systems and targets required for growth. 

The team drilled down on sales figures and production timing improvements they’d need to meet over the next 12 months, with added guidance on the budget implications. 

In Darren’s words:

“Even if you have the best product in the world, it's not going to matter without a sales channel to go through. Skalata has helped me get that going. I can now see a point where I am one of the leaders in this space in Australia.”

Insight collection

Between the work on sales strategy and insight collection, it emerged that the product was best suited to customers who had experienced a pain point - specific issues like calving, bull performance, or losses in their herds. These customers were also more likely to provide quality feedback to better inform the product roadmap and pricing strategy.

The team already had a good framework for insights - they just needed to ensure interviews and sales meetings were taking place within a reasonable time frame after sale. Refining these efforts allowed the company to validate their assumptions, refine their sales pitch, and iterate the product faster. Insights could then lend greater sophistication to the company’s growth and marketing plan.

The next season 

It’s no surprise Smart Paddock is already seeing success abroad – in Canada. One of the world’s most prolific cattle farmers, with vast hinterlands and changeable seasons, the country provides the perfect customer base for remote herd management technology.

The team has secured a partnership with SaskTel to bring smart tag tech to Canada’s livestock, is currently testing in a remote paddock in Alberta, and has met with Agriculture Canada researchers who will be deploying their smart collars on a methane measuring project.

It has also secured a 40,000 unit tag order from University of Saskatchewan.

This all forms an excellent base for a southerly expansion into the States, where business is ripe for the picking as the US Department of Agriculture invests USD $1 billion in more efficient farming, ranching and forestry practices.

After that, the future is Brazilian. South America’s biggest nation has some of the largest global herds and a USD $5.1 billion sales opportunity. 

Closer to home, the team is helping Victorian farmers navigate and upgrade to new tech in partnership with the Victorian government’s Digital Agriculture Investment Scheme.

In December 2022, Smart Paddock raised $1.7m in funding from investors including Breakthrough Victoria and Telstra Ventures to lower supply chain risk, expand the team, sales footprint, and accelerate development of its highest ROI features.

By 2023, it projects 100,000 animals managed via the platform, and integration of direct-to-satellite communications and virtual fencing.

Skalata will continue to support (and push!) Smart Paddock as they drive Australian AgTech forward on the world stage.

Inspired by Smart Paddock's story?