Topic: Unpacking a Responsible Innovation Pathway to Progress our “Digital Agricultural Dreams”: The Case of Virtual Herding Technology in Australia
Keywords: responsible innovation, virtual herding technology, environmental goods, ethical goods
Virtual herding technology (VHT) is an emerging digital agricultural system that has been designed to automate fencing, grazing regimes and animal monitoring on beef, dairy and sheep farms. In line with a general trend to frame digital agricultural innovations as materially and morally progressive, VHT is commercially promoted and anticipated by VHT stakeholders to be a way to shift livestock farming towards a more efficient, informed, environmentally responsible and ethical agricultural industry. However, what tends to be sidelined or unexplored are the strategies and practices that might need to be developed to achieve such a progressive agenda and what form and scale of responsibilities people and organisations may need to adopt. In 2017-2019, our publicly funded project conducted a series of engagement workshops with VHT stakeholders including Australian livestock producers, agricultural advisors, natural resource management organisations and state-based public sectors (n=64) and research project members (n=11). The data generated from these workshops indicated that environmental and ethical goods generated through the application of VHT could be contingent on livestock farmers consistently applying a set of best practices in virtual herding (industry scale), formalising intentional use of VHT in natural resource management landholder agreements (organisational scale), negotiating third party access to the VHT user interface for compliance monitoring (organisational scale), linking VHT to food traceability programs in the retail sector (supply chain scale) and integrating VHT with placed-based food policies (regional scale). The Responsible Innovation ‘work’ that is involved with creating these contingencies to achieve our progressive ‘digital agriculture dreams’ suggest that there are additional responsibilities to identify (who is responsible for the ethical work in the VHT application space?) and new actor agency to be deliberated (should natural resource management organisations have the power to control the use of VHT on farms?). This paper will scope how these empirical findings could build on the concept and application of Responsible Innovation in the commercial application context.