Data is growing in importance daily, with new apps and software offering farmers the opportunity to increase its usefulness by way of both capture and interpretation. Farm Business talks to two New Zealand companies, both with offices in the UK, about how this will help decision-making in the future.
“Data is vital… I feel a lot more could be captured on farm and turned into information to make decision-making easier and more effective,” says Tim Byrne, managing director of science and technology company AbacusBio. “Farmers are offered many products; what they need is to be able to get these different tools working together to manage a business”.
Both AbacusBio, and farm focused on-line software company Figured, are working on platforms and see integration of information as key to moving the industry forwards.
“Most programs in the past have been clunky and manual, with a need to re-key a lot of basic information,” says Figured’s managing director David Kirby. “That’s changing fast now, and anyone using cloud-based accounting systems such as ours, for example, should be able to draw down financial data easily.”
He says these new platforms offer an incredibly efficient way to share information, and points to banks, land agents and advisors who can operate much more effectively once information can be shared. “Using this kind of platform is much quicker and should be cheaper for everyone… it also gives producers more time to work on their business rather than in the office.”
Figured is investing heavily in data science and skills. For example, partner banks or accountants will be able to model which of their customers would be most at risk if the milk price was to fall. “This allows lenders and advisors to be pro-active in approach and contact their clients before problems arise,” he adds.
Mr Kirby believes farm subsidies have played a big role in insulating farmers from the underlying business, and that the time to share information, and use these tools to improve, is now. “I think many have a disproportionate concern about sharing data. As long as you are getting value back, and the provider is transparent about what happens to your data – you should get going. Entering a global marketplace, they need to understand how costs and profits stack up against others. Without doubt it’s the best way to improve.”
AbacusBio feels more effort has to go into demonstrating the value of information to farmer customers. “Often, researchers focus on the features of what they are innovating, different skills are required to show the value proposition to farmers,” says Mr Byrne.
This company is analysing datasets that will help to understand greenhouse gas efficiency of both dairy and beef cattle, for example. “Which breeds, which feeding regimes and finishing systems are the best for our planet? How does genetic merit contribute?” he asks. “We can understand how genetic selection tools can contribute to GHG mitigation; in time farmers can benefit from this. .
“We’re this doing work, because our clients feel it’ll become a necessity for food producers to demonstrate they’re taking care of the planet, while producing high quality food. The consumer will drive environmental mitigation and, if we want to continue to keep a social license to farm, we have to demonstrate we are doing the ‘right’ things. To do that, we must have the data to support it.
“While the UK does buy into a lot of agricultural research, it’s sometimes surprising to see how little of it gets implemented on farm. Take genetics – dairy farmers have been quick to see the advantages of using improved genetics, but less so beef and sheep producers? There’s lots of potential in genetic improvement, often untapped.”