The lot of the farmer is a wretched one! Constant pressure from unfavourable weather patterns, depressed market prices for their produce, sky-rocketing input costs and relentless compliance issues can make one lose heart very quickly. Speaking as a farmer, the boom-and-bust cycles require the patience of Job to enable you to persist. What is at the core of the problem? I dare say it is data (and not Mother Nature!).
Data-driven decision making is the holy grail for any enterprise, agri-based or otherwise. Without accurate, dependable data every choice we make is a thumb-suck at best and folly at worst. The farming game is about productivity and not mere production. A farm, in order to survive, must maximise its produce at the most reasonable and viable cost. All too often farmers produce before knowing what their selling price will be. It is therefore critical that they control their costs ruthlessly. We all know the mantra “You cannot control what you do not measure” hence the need for data at all levels of the agribusiness enterprise.
The pride of the dairy farmer is the stud book which is a record of the lineage and performance of the dairy animal. This data is often collected and stored in a haphazard manner and is often lost to the whims of the dog that eats the homework. In its manual state it is a treasure-trove but if converted to a digital repository it can be a veritable game-changer. Quick access, analysis and presentation can make the difference between profit and loss. It literally provides a way to see into the future.
How can this happen? The only solution is to collect as much data at source before it has been subjected to the vagaries of opinion and reverse engineering. The transition from farming (typically a hobby) to agribusiness passes through a digital “crush” where farm data is collected, verified, and stored for later reporting and review. How does a farmer know if he will be or is profitable? Every cost (direct & indirect) must be captured, catalogued and allocated to production units. Over and above financial data, quality data is intrinsic to the farming process. Not only does it inform price but may pose an existential threat if standards are not set, attained and maintained. With the multitude of data points that exist in an agribusiness enterprise, such as soil data, input data, labour data and so on, manual systems are not fit-for-purpose beyond a subsistence scale. Long-term viability must be under-pinned by cogent data mixed with a healthy serving of best-practice and collated into a knowledge management system that can withstand scrutiny from multiple players. These players include financiers, customers and of course the ever-present tax man!
Where does this leave the farmer? The luxury of manual data processing is a relic of the past. The reality of enhanced invoicing through e-tims is now here, so each farm must take steps to equip themselves for the future that is no longer what it used to be.
A good starting point is to assess the various users of information in and around the organisation, then review their needs with the intention of quantifying the collation effort and cost. Next, is an assessment of the tools that are available to collect this information accurately such as digital weigh scales, drones, smart phones, quality control equipment and the like. Once these tools are identified, the requisite skills must be acquired to operate them with minimal distraction from field operations. After all the job must be done and at the same time be seen to be done (i.e. measured). Finally, data processing tools such as software applications, raw computing power (on-premise or cloud) must be applied to convert these datasets into actionable information, comparable over time. Only then can the farmer say whether or not he is profitable and if he will continue to be profitable.
Chris Sang – ICT Advisory
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