Connecting Agriculture

Whilst the use of computing and telecommunications have been employed in the agricultural sector for the last three decades, it’s adoption as a core and integral element of farming has been limited and uneven.

Previous studies [1] have demonstrated that over 50% of sample set of farmers researched feel that technology gets in the way of managing their farm business, with the preference being for paper records still. Others perceive their farm as being too small for digital elements and that the time to learn these new approaches being too time consuming.

For those that are using digital services as part of their farm business the majority are using them for animal husbandry/recording and electronic herd registration. Farm planning/budgeting, farm monitoring and control and milk production tracking are additional reasons cited in equal frequency.

This is changing and we are at a tipping point when it comes to realising the true transformative nature of the ‘Business Value of ICT’ for farming[2].

AA1

Internet technological progress and adoption is accelerating at an unprecedented rate and is continually redefining our relationship with the digital and the real world.  Farming is ideally positioned (and one of the most suitable industries for a number of reasons) to take advantage on this ‘Cambrian explosion’ in the new wave of technologies emerging.

The core activities of farming will be complemented by a confluence of factors such as the reduction in cost of these new technologies, greater connectivity and access to the Internet and by the evolution of the interfaces with these technologies into a more natural and personalised experience for the farmer.

Connected Agriculture

The concept of Connected Agriculture is that digital services will allow farmers to;

  • farm safely
  • deploy resources more efficiently
  • remotely monitor all aspects of farming from soil moisture levels, stock movement and farm security
  • easily and instantly access and communicate with information and experts on varied aspects of managing a farm: everything from fixing broken equipment to detailed future input prices, business banking to getting updates on the latest farm related media.

Mobile

Smart wearable and personal devices are making accessing and recording information a passive and easier experience. This allows for the development of easy to use and fit-for-purpose apps such as measuring the area of a parcel of land or for managing livestock.

Sensors

Sensor technology systems are increasingly low cost and ubiquitous creating the ‘Internet of Things’ where physical objects such as equipment, buildings and vehicles are able to communicate, collect and exchange data with other objects and the user.

There are a myriad of approaches where this will help farming including; pasture management, soil nutrients, and livestock movements.

Most importantly, there is the opportunity to approach the issues in farm safety where farm equipment can now be digitally monitored and additional automatic fail-safes be implemented.

Spatial & 3D Mapping

Advanced two dimensional and three dimensional scanning and mapping has created a diverse range of applications for farming including; remote management of farmscapes using drones to record soil thermo, pH and nutrient levels to real-time 3-D printing of replacement parts for machines.

Social Networking & Messaging

Increased reached through social networks will allow for new dynamics of collaboration and knowledge sharing at a scale not seen before.

Advancements in artificial intelligence and natural language processing will allow for richer personalised services to evolve through the medium of messaging and chat focused apps such as agronomy and animal husbandry expert advice.

Big Data

Micro detailed data created from all aspects of farming can be captured and recorded continuously, and using advanced modelling techniques new insights into farming can be gleamed.

Cloud Computing

The cost of cloud storage has dropped at a dramatic rate which allows for near infinite storage, access to and sharing of information and applications removing the need for denser on-farm computing systems.

However, the uptake of these new offerings are still hampered by the same barriers to adoption that previous studies have demonstrated, namely: the maturity of these technologies will create a ‘Cambrian explosion’ in the variety of digital products and services that will affect every nook and cranny of the economy including agriculture[3].

  • Lack of access to quality broadband service
  • Perceived steep learning curve
  • Resistance to changing established practices and routines

Messaging is the Medium

A new approach, or rather the  extension of a current, well established and highly used medium could finally be the solution to these barriers.

Messaging and all it’s derivatives such as SMS,  chat apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger) and even email, are now being placed centre stage as a significant way to interact with the Internet thanks to advancements in the field of artificial intelligence (AI).

Computers can see, hear, read and understand humans better than ever before. This is opening a world of opportunities for AI-powered apps, toward which entrepreneurs are rushing.

Messaging is the low-hanging fruit here. Out of all the possible forms of input, digital text is the most direct. Text is constant, it doesn’t carry all the ambiguous information that other forms of communication do, such as voice or gestures and can operate without an Internet connection.

Ireland had a reputation for unusually high usage of SMS with only Denmark surpassing SMS messages sent per subscription among EU countries until recently[4].

The rate of usage has dropped significantly in recent years from its peak in 2011 due to rise in popularity of messaging apps[5].

With a raft of new businesses starting to build their business models around messaging such as ‘Magic’[6], a concierge service operated through SMS and ‘Digit’[7] an SMS bot that monitors your bank account and saves you money, there is still massive untapped potential for SMS.

Unlike mobile apps, you don’t have download, install and get to grips with using the app, with SMS there is nothing to install and nothing to configure – an you do not need an Internet connection.

EthanCleary.me MED

Messaging makes for a better user experience than traditional apps because it feels natural and familiar[8]. When messaging becomes the main user interface with the digital world it removes the learning curve required for new apps, systems and hardware and offers something comfortable and familiar.

This consistency is a form of ultra-personalisation and a richness in service that is almost the inverse of mass communication and the reach of social networks.

In previous studies it was found that 91% of Irish SME websites cannot process sales[9]  only 15% of farmers had a farm management software package[10].

Penetration of mobile phone adoption is near 100% amongst Irish farmers[11] and by tailoring solutions around the ‘conversational interface’ and through a mixture of AI and manual support we may finally have a platform where targeted, tailored, valid and worthwhile interactions for the majority of farmers can take place.


 

[1] ‘An Examination of Technology Adoption & Usage by Farmers in Ireland’, Connolly & Woods 2010.

[2] ‘Managing the Information Technology Resource: Leadership in the Information Age’, Luftman, 2003, Prentice Hall.

[3] ‘A Cambrian moment’ – The Economist, Siegele, Jan 2014.

[4] ‘Comreg Quartery Key Data Report – Q3 2008’ http://www.comreg.ie/_fileupload/publications/ComReg08101.pdf

[5] ‘Texting gets the thumbs down’, Weckler, 2013 – http://www.independent.ie/business/technology/texting-gets-thumbs-down-29575750.html

[6] https://getmagicnow.com/

[7] https://digit.co/

[8] ‘No UI is the New UI’ – Medium.com, Aubé, Nov 2015.

[9] IEDR, 20th April 2015 – https://www.iedr.ie/2015/04/91-of-irish-sme-websites-cannot-process-sales/

[10] ‘ICTs for Agricultural Extension: Global Experiments, Innovations and Experiences’, Saravanan, 2010, NIPA.

[11] ‘ICTs for Agricultural Extension: Global Experiments, Innovations and Experiences’, Saravanan, 2010, NIPA.

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