With populations expected to increase there is a focus on producing heathy, sustainable protein for the future. With 70% of the world covered in water, producers are turning to the sea to create sustainable farms to meet increasing demand for seafood, with salmon a leading choice for family dinner plates across Australia.
Australian salmon companies are working hard to meet this demand, which is increasing at around 10% per annum domestically and are now producing more than 60,000 tonnes of salmon annually. Forming a vital part of consumer eating habits, the move towards more sustainable, healthier lifestyles has boosted salmon production figures across retail and wholesale markets, with a predicted increase of up to 71,000 tonnes by 2023–24 across the country (Annual fisheries outlook, Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, 2019).
Situated off Australia’s south coast, Tasmania alone is now home to five geographically separated farming zones, and produces retail value AUD ~940mn of salmon every year. In order to retain its position as the largest producer of Tasmanian-grown Atlantic salmon in the country, leading player Tassal Group has turned towards new, innovative methods to deliver on its commitment in the production of high quality, safe produce for consumers.
Previously appointed as a Business Intelligence (BI) Manager at Tassal over five years ago, with the aim of strengthening the company’s data capabilities and digital infrastructure, Chief Information Officer Matt Leary has been central to the company’s rapid growth journey. Noting he is the first to obtain the CIO role due to Tassal’s ongoing expansion, he has been responsible for the modernisation of the business’ production and supply chain, using technology as a key driver to transform its service offerings.
“We’ve been modernising our production and supply chain tools, which support our farming organisation. This involves our pay, supply chain, financial management and demand management systems. On the farming side, it includes aquaculture management, which is all about maximising yield, optimising fish health and welfare, while supporting cost efficiencies,” he explains.
By focusing not only on the operational, but the environmental side of the business to improve its domestic yield, Tassal has recently invested $20mn in a new state-of-the-art remote, centralised feeding centre. Through the project, the implementation of new technologies and the introduction of strong partnerships has worked to drive up production rates, optimise performance and reduce waste across the organisation.
“We have five farming regions located around Tasmania and typically, each zone will have multiple leases which house our pens,” explains Leary. To ensure its operations could be supported by a digitally-led underwater infrastructure, Tassal partnered with aquaculture technology leaders Steinsvik and Tasmanian based IT service provider Intuit Technologies to introduce high-definition cameras in each pen, as well as install fibre optic and wireless networks around each farm. Additionally, to further support its feed centre and gain a greater understanding around fish behaviour, centralised feeding has also been introduced to all sites. Camera and video technology can now be viewed remotely, enabling the business to improve feed conversion rates, reduce waste, as well as access vital data around environmental conditions, such as water temperature, salinity levels and more, all in real-time.
“There will be anything between 10 and 26 pens, and in each pen we have underwater cameras,” says Leary. “From a technology point of view, it was a challenge to get video traffic back with our outdated infrastructure, and in areas where there was not a lot of telecommunication, so we were effectively building our own high capacity network around all these farming operations. However, with these cameras, we can now observe fish behavior, which is fairly critical in terms of maximising how we utilise that feed.”
“We also work with WiseFish which provides a number of software solutions to support our supply chain production. The system has been really important for us in the modernisation of our digital backbone and how we get our product from farm to customer.” As new technologies enter the fray, Tassal is also looking to explore how tools such as machine learning, cloud and automation can bolster its production levels and drive increased efficiencies, all with the customer in mind.
“We’re part way through our cloud journey, but machine learning is a pretty big opportunity for us,” observes Leary. “With all the video we're capturing around fish behaviour, we're now working with companies to see how machine learning can support the fish feeding process, looking at behavioural queues as an indicator of fish health and wellbeing.”
Not only that, the business’ recent acquisition of the Fortune Group has seen the company diversify into prawn farming. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences noted last year, “rock lobster, abalone, tuna and prawns are projected to contribute most to fisheries product export value across the medium term (2018–19 to 2022–23), where these commodities will account for around 80% of export value,” leading to further opportunities for the business to diversify its portfolio and grow its presence in existing markets. “Prawn farming is quite an immature industry, and in Australia especially, is probably 10-15 years behind salmon farming, not just technologically but operationally,” states Leary. “We will now be able to leverage our expertise in salmon farming and transfer this to prawn farming, utilising technology to significantly increase production rates and yields.”
Leary is continuously motivated in supporting organisations to utilise technology to improve business outcomes, and at Tassal, has fully hit the ground running in improving the way the business grows and produces fish, optimising performance and guaranteeing feed efficiencies.
“We're Australia's largest aquaculture business and we want to make sure it stays that way,” he says enthusiastically. “We've got ambition to continue to grow the salmon farming side of the business, but with the prawn farming acquisition, we've certainly got very ambitious targets to draw, to really increase that over the next 10 years. At the same time, we remain conscious of the impact of digital transformation in the market side of things. They'll be our areas of focus over the coming years, taking on board new challenges wherever they may present themselves.”