Humans of Agriculture

Guy Coleman entered the evokeAG. stage and started handing around ANZAC biscuits his Mum had made. He was also holding his Grandmother’s 27th edition Country Women's Association cookbook. And then he started talking about open source weed technology. 

He explains that open source technology means that a fundamental idea is available for everyone to iterate upon and make different versions of, just like the ANZAC biscuit recipe. This way, improvements and accessibility can be made at a much more rapid pace. 

Always interested in building things and science, Guy was known to keep his housemates up at night building robots. Now based in Copenhagen doing research in weed technology, Guy says that, ‘Australian agriculture will always have his heart’. 

Oli Le Lievre and Milly Nolan sat down with Guy at evokeAG. 2024 after his Future Young Leader presentation and chatted about his dream of open-source technologies in agriculture being the way of the future and what he’s seeing on the ground in Europe. 

Our #FutureYoungLeader stories are proudly sponsored by 2024 AgriFutures evokeAG. evokeAG. 2025 applications will open later in 2024. 

Partner: Nuffield Australia - If you're interested in applying for a Nuffield Scholarship and join a global alumni network of more than 2,000 scholars, head to www.nuffield.com.au

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What is Humans of Agriculture?

Welcome to Humans of Agriculture. This podcast series is dedicated to discovering more about our food system, from the people involved in it.

Along the journey we'll be meeting people from all walks of life from Australia and from afar. Join us as we find out how our communities and our culture shape what we eat, and ultimately who we are.
​More people, More often, Identifying with Agriculture

Oli Le Lievre 0:08
rollin. We're back with another one from a voc Agnelli. Yeah, here we are who we got mill guy Coleman.

Unknown Speaker 0:14
We have welcome God.

Unknown Speaker 0:15
Thanks for having me. Good to be here.

Oli Le Lievre 0:17
Guy. I'm trying to think well, we can talk about guy cooking class, which he basically just ran about 45 minutes ago. I'm trying to think when the last time was that I saw it because I think he was maybe working up at Narrabri on the research farm. Yeah, I think

Speaker 1 0:29
that's about right. It'll probably would have been in 2019. And Sydney. We did the company directors course. I think that's it together. Is that right? Oh, yeah. Maybe that was a drought and bushfires. Yeah. Yeah.

Oli Le Lievre 0:40
And I reckon you probably took a lot more out of that than I did. That was March of 2019. Yeah, that

Speaker 1 0:46
sounds about right. Yeah. I remember running five kilometres long the Namoi River, because he was so dry. Yeah. Completely empty.

Oli Le Lievre 0:53
Might you've been doing a lot? You're, you're now living overseas. So just temporarily back home in your home city of Perth. Yes,

Speaker 1 1:01
I submitted a PhD on 29th of January. So it's a burden been employed since but heading back to Denmark to start a postdoc in sort of what I've been doing on site specific weed control research at the start of May. So I've got a couple months back in the warm, sunny Perth, we'll be heading out to Sydney and perhaps Narrabri for a bit too at some point, but yeah, enjoying Denmark, certainly the moment it helped, like,

Oli Le Lievre 1:23
how long have you been living over there for?

Speaker 1 1:24
I moved over in October 2022. So I've been there for a year, just over a year. Couple of winters? Yeah. Enjoy it. Yeah, lovely. The people there. And the research is fantastic. It's really interesting. It's very similar to Australia and the way they you know, they work and research and the culture, I think, of course, different language. But yeah, just a fascinating experience. I think just seeing how different research groups and different research environments work together. And how did you end up their data? It's a long story. We've got to do this. It's gotta be interested. So it started I think, as in America, in 2021, in Texas, and then the flights are cancelled because of closed borders, right back to Australia in December. So headed to Denmark, sort of feeling a couple of months probably could come back. And that was to work with the supervisor over there. A couple things happened at Sydney ended up then continuing the PhD over in Denmark. From October, he had a project that was working on adaptation of weeds to I guess we detection so they can mimic the crop. And the guy in Denmark Paul, who I met in, I guess, met before but worked with those two months after Texas. He had me back. So sort of this couple year pros process, but October 2020. That's sort of all kicked off.

Oli Le Lievre 2:37
Can we just know you as the robotics guy?

Unknown Speaker 2:40
Not that technical.

Oli Le Lievre 2:43
So Sammy was our I guess our most recent guest, you know, he was a musician

Speaker 1 2:46
plays a young oboe, right? Yeah.

Oli Le Lievre 2:49
So what are like your little hidden talents that have led you down this pathway?

Speaker 1 2:53
Oh, hidden talents, I can make a good bouquet of flowers. Oh, enjoy doing that.

Unknown Speaker 2:58
I could have done a bit of a segment on flowers. Oh, really? Yeah. It's been really interesting. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 3:04
Not sure if that's led me to this path. But

Oli Le Lievre 3:06
it's never tell us how did you learn to make a bouquet of flowers.

Speaker 1 3:10
I know it's really quite pretty until you're adding the walk or something. I'm gonna say nice flower, because you want to pick the ones everyone else appreciates, but it was only backyard or whatever. And especially when Arab Roy can living on a couple of farms, whatever, few different rose bushes around and pull them together in a sort of a way of being creative but also being involved with plant.

Unknown Speaker 3:28
So I always had a fascination for plants.

Speaker 1 3:31
Yeah, so I mean, I grew up with access my both my parents are pretty into like the use of abortion sort of nature and all that. So headed down to a place southwest of Perth called northcliff, which is a very small town. They had a property there and dad's a beekeeper too. So we will always drive around telling what's flowering at the moment or all different trees that are around we drove from actually just a couple of days ago from basically Perth to Esperance and three revenue sources about seven hour drive in a little bit longer wage only which trees are flowering or what's why they're here and the soils. And so I guess I grew up around that I think they gave me appreciation of, I guess plants and trees, and especially in WA but that probably led me down to this interest in plants at least.

Unknown Speaker 4:11
And how has that evolved to now being so involved in in weed open source technology? Like what was the journey to actually, I guess a bit of a passion project bit of a hobby, putting flowers together, but now you're actually dealing with this technology? Yeah,

Speaker 1 4:26
it's a hard one. But I think because the way I learned about technologies, I mean, I was always in plants and gardening and agriculture and stuff, right in the science side of things, but not necessarily on the technology front. I always want my brother did. So there had to teach myself three, five or six years, six years ago now to code and work on robotics and all that. And so I think that process of teaching myself and learning about robotics as someone who wasn't necessarily super familiar with it, it gave me insight into all these ways people were sharing like huge amounts of research or projects just to everyone I meant that I could learn, but there's a lack of ag specific projects out there to learn from. So I thought that that seemed like a gap so people could learn. They they went in agriculture, but they could learn about agriculture through a technical project. I think that was probably the very first idea that led to the opioid locator. And that's sort of why I was interested open source egg was because I wanted to try and create that for agricultural wasn't like a cat detector or whatever. It's not super useful. You make a weed detector instead has a purpose. But you can also learn about Python through it.

Unknown Speaker 5:31
So you mentioned

Oli Le Lievre 5:32
your brother, tell me your brother's a bit of a robotics tech guy as well.

Speaker 1 5:37
Yeah, so 2005 He built a drone, which is ahead of his time. Yeah, he should have commercialised it. He always, I think kicks himself a little bit. But he's got his own startup in London. He lives in London now, but works on prototyping and building electronics. Like very high quality, kind of very confusing electronics to me, over there for specific companies where we're contracting to do it.

Oli Le Lievre 5:58
Is it just the two of you siblings,

Unknown Speaker 6:00
my sister as well? She's a lawyer. Okay.

Oli Le Lievre 6:02
So yeah. Intelligent family. Yes. Any she in Australia?

Unknown Speaker 6:07
Now? She's also at London. Oh, my

Oli Le Lievre 6:09
God. My parents spend their time travelling a little bit.

Speaker 1 6:12
Yeah, a little bit. They do like coming over. It's I think we have Christmas as often in London and Denmark, more than possibly Australia at this point anyway, do

Oli Le Lievre 6:19
you think do you say your like your future over in Europe,

Speaker 1 6:22
I think it's a mix of both. I think these days, it's possible to be connected sort of everywhere and share your time between them all. There's like a lot of benefits of working. And living in Denmark, the research environment there, the way they fund research is much more progressive or open. And in Australia, in Australia, very much of a focus on has to be applied has to be outcome, you have to sell IP or something at the end of it, otherwise you won't be funded as part of the open source side of things. Whereas in Denmark, if you pitch open source to them, or if you pitch these sort of blue sky ideas that are generally interested in doing I mean, there's a whole range of different parts you can get funding from, but my experience so far has been more open about that. So I quite enjoy that difference. I think, at the same time, Australia's can take the boy out of Perth, but he can't take goes out the bush. So yeah.

Oli Le Lievre 7:05
Can you talk me through that a little bit? Just like I know nothing? What is open source? And what is its applications? And maybe what are some examples of it in the big wide world? Well, that's why

Speaker 1 7:14
I had the cooking class about an hour ago. So basically, if you think about if you make a cake, or if you make a fancy biscuit, for example, you can find so many different ways to make them online or recipe books, right. But they all come from that like base recipe that started and I think we've all watched one. And what's happened is they put out their base recipe, but there are companies that sell Anzac biscuits, so anyone can make an antique biscuit. But there's still companies that sell them. And I don't often make ends up biscuits, I buy them. So I'm still spending money on a product I could probably make myself. But the whole range of reasons you wouldn't necessarily do that. So use that as a metaphor and translate it into AG, why aren't we having these base recipes for we detection, or GPS, which is probably actually easiest now a little bit more? Or even like a whole range of different ag tech principles out there? Why don't we have the base recipes, and then start building products on top of them and cut out all the wasted time and redeveloping those base and spend it instead on developing products that are really pharma century and more related to specific use cases? Because if you ask because all developers agriculture is full of edge cases. So I think that's where open source based recipes are solving. It's so important. And that's I guess how I generally like to think about it. And

Oli Le Lievre 8:27
you talk in food recipes there. Is this an influence of someone else who was like, Oh, the way you're explaining it is XYZ or how did that come about?

Speaker 1 8:34
I think it's carry out because I was talking about pies, I think or it

Unknown Speaker 8:37
was pie. Yeah. You talked to me about pies. Yeah. That cookie during this. So it's been it's evolved to happen

Speaker 1 8:45
as price is influenced. We're trying to figure it out how they come out eating your pie, or fun. Maybe just give people ends like this. Yeah, that evolved over the past few months, I think. I think you mentioned open source, I feel like they were the eyes glaze over. It's not necessarily the most exciting tech. But if you relate it back to the food, like everyone loves food. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 9:04
And I think like it's speaking to all the future young leaders that communicating the technical science and doing it in a way that people can actually understand. I think, well, I'm hugely grateful for rotating the young leaders programme, because otherwise, I probably wouldn't be able to understand this open source technology. And so they've been able to do that communication. What else has the programme giving you like, what else do you think, has been that progression, where to next?

Speaker 1 9:31
I really learned a lot from the way Bryce has taught us about, like how to present or how to develop your voice or how to create a structure around a story. So he showed us and perhaps you're familiar with it, like every story has like quite a predictable arc, you might have a sort of introduction, and then you've got the build up and the crisis and the resolution and everything happened again and you get this over and over again. So I think learning about that quite explicitly and then structuring a story or or the way you tell some thinking around the structure is has been quite important. I think often scientific talks lack maybe their structure, they get just going a laundry list, I think, as they call it a results or different outcomes. And I think it may be more interesting and therefore more engaging and more useful and practical to adopt this whole storytelling structure. So I think that's why I've really got out of it, I think, yeah, of course, the self confidence, I think, too. It's always challenging, I think, to get up in front of other people and speak. So knowing that these sort of tricks or prizes given us to get around it.

Oli Le Lievre 10:30
So you could, were you feeling confident before you walked up on stage? Certainly noises?

Speaker 1 10:35
Wouldn't really. I wouldn't say, I think you have to be confident to get up there and do it successfully. As Bryce said, like, if you're, if you're planning to fail, or you consider that you're failed, and you probably will, he said it in a much more direct way from that. But beforehand, you just consider everything, all the practice, we've done all the rehearsals, and then you know that it will go okay, so besides that, of course, the nerves are normal, perhaps on nausea. But getting out there, I think it just it all comes out. And all of a sudden, it's done. And you get back in the waiting room.

Unknown Speaker 11:05
And you feel good, nice and relaxed afterwards. Exactly. Yeah.

Oli Le Lievre 11:08
Was there a moment on stage where you actually were like, I feel relaxed? Yeah. And you can't say walking off?

Speaker 1 11:16
I think I don't know, I think it's at the start is a bit of a bit of a chaotic confusion. But I think hearing the first sort of crowd interaction with your presentation, I think when I was saying, like, I'm not a baker, my mom actually made these biscuits and did a really good job of it. And other crowds have laughed a little bit, I think then is almost break that ice between you and you and the audience. So at that point, I was like, Alright, just sort of go out and enjoy it, maybe a few twists to the script that hadn't considered before. And

Oli Le Lievre 11:42
I guess like we've we've observed the future young leaders for the last few years from the sidelines, you had probably quite an interesting involvement in as well doing it from a whole different timezone. And all of that will actually be going on behind the scenes and kind of what what did the involvement look like to you, because it's not just turning up on the day and chatting is,

Speaker 1 11:58
I feel like that's just, that's almost a small part of it, of course, the most public facing part. But we probably began in November and, of course, got to know each other. And we had a script like a very basic scripts written by when we started assemble. And along that way, we're sort of learning as well through these master classes that Bryce was running, about how to tell a story or how to engage an audience or what to do what not to do during the presentation. And it usually was a few hours ago, impressive for me, it was quite easy, because like 11am, during the day in Denmark, in Copenhagen, was for the guys here in Perth, or over in Sydney. It was like 9pm. So I've had meetings with Bryce, Tempe, and he was trying to manage his hourly and all that. So it was totally challenging for them, I think, and almost easier for me being in different time zones. But yeah, there's all that buildup and preparation that goes into it that results in what we've sort of heard today from from everyone.

Unknown Speaker 12:50
Do you have like a dream for the ag sector? Like, I guess, yeah, you've talked about the open source technology piece? Do you have something that you can really kind of tangibly See, like what's possible, and the influence you want to have? Yeah,

Speaker 1 13:03
I'd love to see it. Become like the machine learning industry, as you say, sort of faced, I think those similar issues back maybe 1520 years ago, and they made a conscious choice and just happen to become this open source and sharing environment. And I'm sure it's no coincidence that now machine learning has just sort of rapidly grown and grown and grown. So I think there's an opportunity there. And I can see this, because there's so many nice use cases of all sorts of technology. But if we become a much more sharing and more open and not so constrained by like, where's the IP? Like, what contracts are we signed to keep this IP locked up just in case maybe in the future, it's worth something. I think that's such a damaging mindset to have in agriculture, because all these good ideas, they're all kept behind these sort of contracts and IP documents sitting there in case they become useful. And I think that's so sad to see, I think, but if we get around that, and we get to more open source, more sharing of data, they still have profitable businesses without super important, then we can have a much more thriving, connected industry is pretty much more efficient in the way it does things. Yeah.

Oli Le Lievre 14:09
Europe's a really interesting kind of use case at the moment with everything that's going on. Have you have you seen much of the commentary around, I guess, everything that we've seen the rallies and things that are happening in France and Germany and, and whatnot, are you privy to any of that where you are?

Speaker 1 14:25
I mean, I've certainly talked to Danish farmers about it. And they often say the farming with one foot in jail is interesting. It's only I think it is certainly more challenging over there. And there's a lot more requirements on what farmers can do. There's not as much freedom. But at the same time, like I'm certainly not privy to what's happening in France and Denmark, so probably certainly different to those other places. By the way, Denmark has reduced I think pesticide usage by over 50% in the last 30 years, but still increased yields over the same time. and just the way I think they think about weed control or pest management is very different to hear the common saying with weed smart through Aryan WA and all that is got to kill every weed every seed every season, every heartache every year, I think

Oli Le Lievre 15:12
rolls off the tongue.

Speaker 1 15:16
Right? It's like a chance. But it's over there, it's more about all risk based decisions, right. So if a weed isn't causing any yield loss, perhaps it's got a pollinator benefit. So I think there's much more holistic thinking around agriculture, that isn't necessarily just about the crop that year. And there's a tonne of challenges over there, too, that aren't necessarily here and this one shutdown challenges here that aren't there. But I do appreciate that more with a broader approach to thinking about certain problems. But at the same time, I've seen a tonne of innovation come out of Australia. So it's just, there are some things that I think we could learn, but probably vice versa to

Oli Le Lievre 15:52
know for anyone who's not out of oak ag and they're listening in kind of over the weekend. What What would you say? What's something that maybe you've picked up? In the conversations here? What do you what are you observing at the event here this year?

Speaker 1 16:04
There's certainly a, I mean, AI is sort of kicked off everything, just few chats about that. There's also a buzz around agriculture, I think there's always people sort of talking about new ideas and concepts and trialling things out. Yeah, so I think it's maturing here in out of okay to I think maybe back in 2019, probably when we first went to it, there was just like a startup alley. But now, of course, the scale ups too. And I think perhaps there's that movement towards larger companies and Australian ag tech and that are moving beyond Australia, maybe more globally. So there's probably that happening, too. But I'm also looking forward to chatting to a tonne more people not stressing about this presentation too much as I can imagine.

Unknown Speaker 16:37
I think I'm probably like, you seem to be very open minded about where you see things going both in Australia, what you're seeing overseas as well. And so say we're at a vocab we're in Brizzy in work next year 2025. But what would you love to see at that event?

Speaker 1 16:57
I think we'd love to see companies less sharing more about how they develop things, not necessarily the like, this is what how good we're doing it. And this is what we do. It's also maybe here's our code base, or maybe you can build off it this way. Here's an API you can use to sort of get it into your into your product. And I like to see more conversation, not necessarily just around the tech, like AI is great. But like how do we how do we sort of connects across all that technology between all these different companies, or where it gaps that can be filled by another company or do it more efficiently and in a way that maybe be more open with their technology might sort of invite that collaboration, as opposed to having two different systems develop there. So I think often the conversations here very much around tech and sort of in silos almost that maybe start having those conversations across cross platforms, and have platforms for interoperability, but have those platforms open, as opposed to necessarily closed guy

Oli Le Lievre 17:57
or racket? Well, I'll probably just want to finish by saying, hopefully, I'll see you more often than two dozen, or every five years. But I think probably like the thing, which and others maybe commented on while you were chatting as well is, you say you're part of the future young leaders, but you are actually already a leader. And I think what impact you're going to have, and not even just in Australian agriculture, but global agriculture in the way that you think about things, but then also the way you're able to communicate it is really exciting. And so I think it's been called an A over the last few years. I'm just so excited to see what happens. You move into your postdoc era. And you're going to stop studying at some stage and really knuckle down or do you think you'll always continue to have I guess the that continual learning academia thing like beside partnered with, I guess, the on farm involvement? Yeah, we'll

Speaker 1 18:43
go there. I'll never stop learning whether it means I'll always say to university, that's to be determined, but I'll certainly try and make the How can we locate or integrate more of a, I think commercial product, I really want to test that. Like, if you can generally make an open source company, I think in Australia or globally, that'd be a great thing to test. So yeah, we'll see to be determined, but always

Oli Le Lievre 19:02
learning. And so throwing it out there, I guess in in the human community, like if there was something which was going to help you around the commercialization of open weed locator, the owl million lakanal noise? Well, like what would be something that would actually benefit you. And maybe you could throw out to our platform, the types of people you want to talk to or something that you're curious about right now?

Speaker 1 19:23
I use probably three, three groups of people. I think the first is certainly farmers and people with access to build these and tests and be that's how they really get tried and true testing in the field. So be interested, always happy to sort of walk you through the process or sort of help you on that path, then as developers, so people who might have spare time or to contribute to sort of the community and check over the COVID I mean, I've taught myself how to code. I'm no computer scientists. So there's probably heaps of hacks in there that aren't very, very nice. And then there's, I think, investors I'd love to just chat and sort of get your opinions I think on how open source OS development might work. I mean, now, of course, it's one use case, but more broadly, like what they think about an open source company in agriculture and how that might work. I think I just love to hear their perspectives on. Either way, they don't do it already. These data sets are often valued as a system. That's a differentiation that seemed like, what happens if you publish that data? Or what happens, then how can you differentiate yourself? I'd love to chat to them about that. And of course, if they're interested in sort of funding some of this development, that'd be fantastic. But just I think, to guide somewhere thinking around how you make this a quarter of a broader concept,

Unknown Speaker 20:30
I think got what I'd say is like unique about like your approach, and obviously it relates to that. We've used the word open so much, but you're so open minded to, there's ways that we can continue refining and improving and yeah, I just want to say good luck, because you said when we first met that, I think you said Australian agriculture has my heart or something like that. So we'll start to see that you've got that dedication and ongoing commitment. So good luck, and thanks for coming on the humans back podcast.

Unknown Speaker 20:56
Hi, guys. Thanks for having me.

Oli Le Lievre 20:57
Go get him. Thanks. Well, that's it for another episode from us here at humans of agriculture. We hope you're enjoying these podcasts. And well, if you're not, let us know. Hit us up at Hello at humans of agriculture.com. Get in touch with any guest recommendations topics, or things you'd like us to talk and get curious about. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend. rate subscribe, review it, any feedback is absolutely awesome. And we really do welcome it. So look after yourselves. Stay safe. stay sane. We'll see you next time.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai