News from the Coal Face


So there I was, down at the Almond Conference at Glenelg ‘manning’ the MEA stand. We get to lots of these agricultural and renewable energy conferences annually, and more often than not our booths are ‘womaned’. But this time Tanya and Sonja were off on other missions and our marketing manager had no choice but to wheel out the old guy to get the job done.

So I’m standing there, as in days of yore, doing my best to look like I knew the ins and outs of our product line, when some fella comes up to me and sticks his head into my space to demand (somewhat aggressively) how he could possibly know that MEA gear was any better than anybody else’s?

Caught on the back foot, with no patter to hand, I gave the first answer that came into my head: ‘Thirty years at the coal face!’

Shooting from the lip is all very well, but after he’d gone, I was left wondering what that was all about – both question and answer.

Now it’s true that I’ve been buried in the MEA basement these past four years, birthing our Plexus radio systems and the new Thermex sensor for listening to crops instead of the soil. It’s been a fun ride, and I’ve gotten to hone my design and technical leadership skills before they too got rusty, just in time for my sixtieth birthday. I’ve still got the goods.

So while I’d been keeping an ear out to reports from the field by the MEA girls, I must admit to some inattention to the vibes from the marketplace.

Sure, I knew that times were tough simultaneously in both of our traditional marketplaces: renewable energy monitoring and irrigated agriculture. But I guess I hadn’t quite perceived how fed up many growers were with the muddy support they’d been getting from Australian technology companies before this one character down at the Almond Conference made it a personal experience for me.

It’s as though farmers have been treated as ‘country cousins’ for far too long by those of us building their measurement tools…

So is MEA’s gear any better than anybody else’s?

Heck, that’s not for me to say, but for me to prove.

Our Plexus and Green Brain roll-outs to those cautious growers have been smooth and pretty-much angst free – like the GBugs and GDots before them - so I’ve got half a leg to stand on.

Down in the basement, we’ve started the never-ending business of adding further flavours and tweaks to the Plexus product line for moving farm data to farmers, no matter where they are.

But I’ve had a few moments to reflect, now that the first Plexus pressures are off, and I reckon my gut reaction to that grower was the right one – to have any command of this field, you have to be there and be focussed for thirty years before you have any chance at all of wresting products to new levels and leaving the rabble in your dust.

So we’re still here and turning out products based on all that we’ve learnt at the coalface over thirty years.

There’s just this one footnote (to paraphrase Mark Twain): “Rumours of my retirement have been greatly exaggerated!’




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