Smart farming into the future
It’s not so long ago that the term ‘smart farming’ had a very different meaning. The ‘smart’ farmer was one who understood his farm, had a knack for reading the weather patterns, and with a dose of good luck thrown in.
Today’s ‘smart farmer’ however has a vastly different profile. They as distinct from ‘he’, are an operator who gathers and deciphers relevant information from an almost endless source of data at their fingertips. Then, in conjunction with applied technology, they farm in a way that they, in turn, generate more data to contribute to the world supply. That data, if interpreted correctly, has the ability to create an unprecedented decision-making environment.
The smart farmer’s own data has now also become another marketable output from their operation.
Just as many of the broader Australian public have concerns over their online footprint and its collection, storage, use and security, Australian farmers too are reticent when it comes to sharing their data (Wiseman, Sanderson, Zhang, & Jakku, 2019).
In their 2017 article ‘Big Data in Smart Farming – A Review’ researchers observed a, ‘landscape of stakeholders exhibiting an interesting game between powerful tech companies, venture capitalists and often small start-ups and new entrants (Wolfert, Ge, Verdouw, & Bogaardt, 2017).’
It seems that the value of agricultural data has caught the attention of the ‘big’ players and the optimistic short-term players alike.
As a result of their study, Wolfert and his colleagues went on to propose that priority needed to be given to researching the issues of standards, ownership and governance, but more importantly, ‘suitable business models for data sharing in different supply chain scenarios (Wolfert, Ge, Verdouw, & Bogaardt, 2017).’
It is worthy of note that until the 2020 drafting of the Farm Data Code by the National Farmers Federation, there was no formal guide in Australia regulating how farming data could be collected, stored or shared. While comprehensive, the Code is just that – a guide encouraging ‘best practice.’ The nuances of ownership and ‘rights’ continue to be played out in a series of court cases setting precedents, both here and internationally. For most farmers, the data market remains a complicated, relatively unnavigated, and still uncertain space.
So what then of the input data that provides the foundation of this decision making process? While some of it may be comprised of an ever-growing databank of local on farm history, how much faith should the grower have in ‘off farm’ information sources being fed into their decision making?
Being ‘tech savvy’, has become a core requirement, rather than a point of differentiation for today’s ‘smart’ farmer. The issue is that the ‘tech’ part, often comes with a greater level of confidence than the ‘savvy.’ With so much of this data and information at our fingertips, and it would seem, so many companies out there ready to capitalize on this information hunger, where do we even start to identify reliable information sources?
This is a much more crucial decision than assessing the credibility of a website when trawling the net.
What also, does a grower do, when their gut feeling and age-old farming intuition, contradicts the information being recommended by the technology?
Just as the mode of operation of the farmer has evolved, so too has the role of their consultant. No longer is their advice limited to purely in field agronomic advice. Instead, growers are now turning to their consultants for guidance and information in the ag-technology sphere. Shared experiences, be they successes or failures, are a key to building trust and adoption of new approaches to decision making. Increasingly, this role is becoming an important part of the consultant’s commercial offering.
This year, Crop Consultant’s Australia (CCA) will be undertaking a project, in collaboration with GRDC and the University of Melbourne to take an in depth look into the factors that impact upon decision making with regards to the adoption of, and trust in on farm technology. In a series of case studies, the project will examine the professional relationship between grower and consultant, and the internal and external factors that contribute to a successful decision-making dynamic, and confidence in its outcomes.
Through the project, CCA aims to provide its members, the broader industry and growers with a tangible insight into the assessment of the possible application, and adoption of technology on farm.
It is evident from the outset however, that while the definitive data is all important, the ‘understanding of the farm’ still has an integral role to play. Maybe the definition of ‘smart’ hasn’t changed after all.
Wiseman, L., Sanderson, J., Zhang, A., & Jakku, E. (2019). Farmers and their data: An examination of farmers’ reluctance to share their data through the lens of the laws impacting smart farming. NJAS – Wageningen Jounal of Life Sciences, 100301.
Wolfert, S., Ge, L., Verdouw, C., & Bogaardt, M. (2017, May). Big Data in Smart Farming – A review. Agricultural Systems, pp. 69-80.