Data-Driven Agricultural Solutions Are Not the Future

Jason Gleason

No, that’s not a misprint! Data-driven solutions are not the future of agriculture — they’re very much part of the present reality for farmers.

The agriculture industry is going through a sea change and data is playing a crucial role. The type of data that is collected and how it is collected, shared and used is a major challenge and opportunity for the sector. The challenges of dealing with data are common to all industries but it’s particularly challenging in the agriculture sector given the large datasets from a wide range of different sources.

There’s so much data involved in farming these days. You’ve got the operational side of things including machinery, sensors and technology that deliver data around the animal performance and wellbeing, pasture management, soil, feed, fertiliser and water. You’ve also got data from contractors and suppliers. It’s mind boggling to think about how much data is involved and how all of that data has to be managed by the farmer. And the thing is, the farmer shouldn’t have to add data management to their list of tasks on farm.

Down on the farm

What’s that saying…if you don’t measure it you can’t improve it. The decisions farmers make need to be well informed. Previously a lot of these decisions were based on how good the farmers’ intuition was and their gut feeling that relied on years of accumulated knowledge and experience.

Now smart sensors and devices produce vast amounts of relevant, timely data from different sources to help farmers manage operations and make more informed decisions. These technologies promise higher efficiency, lower expenses, and increased revenue for farmers.

Many Kiwi farmers are using cloud-based solutions that are changing how they operate while optimising operations and production. Farm management software is used by farmers to manage farm operations and finances. Regulators require farmers to collect and report on environmental plans that often require the same data.

How to consolidate, store and convert this data into actionable information that delivers real, practical insights and helps improve farming processes and troubleshoot problems is the challenge.

Drowning in data

There are two reasons why data sharing matters to farmers. One is to meet the ever increasing regulatory requirements. Secondly, sharing and leveraging data is vital if New Zealand agriculture wants to benefit from the potential strategic advantage that comes with a transparent and trustworthy environmental reputation.

Up to now, farmers could choose whether to use technology on their farm. Now, the volume and sophistication of data required by regulators means using some form of data management system is unavoidable. For a lot of farmers, the regulatory requirements are becoming a big pain point and they’re looking for solutions to that pain.

Change is difficult for all of us. And yet farmers are expected to turn on a dime and go from working the land to spending hours and hours and hours in front of a computer inputting data to meet regulatory requirements. That’s not why they became farmers. They want to be out on the land with the animals, not crunching numbers. It’s vital there are systems in place that make things easier for them.

It costs farmers time and money to manage their data. Or they end up paying someone else to do it for them. The last thing you want as a farmer is different systems. You want easy-to-use, integrated systems so you don’t have to type something into one system once and then input it somewhere else.

Another issue is farmers don’t have that much control over their data and how it is used. They’re also becoming increasingly aware of the need to protect and control their data and to share in the benefits that come from accessing that data. Farmers are realising there are a lot of companies using their data to sell them stuff, to make a profit. They are realising that their data is an asset.

Eightwire’s ability to deliver permissions-based sector data exchange allows the farms to create a data vault that pulls data from all of the different technology devices and farm management software and makes it easy to share with regulators and other partners. This gives the farmer control of their data and allows regulators to access the environmental data they need without adding overheads to the farmer. It also gives the farmer insights into where their data is going and how it is used.

If companies want to access the data vault, then the farmer can make that call and get a portion of the value from it. It won’t be much but at least they will be part of the value chain. At least the farmer is engaged in the process. And they also have the option to say no with the exception of compliance requirements obviously.

Plan ahead

There’s been a huge increase in the number of environmental regulations that farmers have to deal with and respond to. These regulations demand more accurate data from farmers.

Farmers will be required to comply with a whole host of environmental regulations, such as land use, water quality and emissions management, by 2025. All farmers will be expected to have a Farm Environment Plan in place by 2025.

Our mission is to work with the government, agriculture suppliers, contractors and technology providers to make it easier on farmers to meet their regulatory requirements. We would urge them to be smart about it and think about how all these data demands impact the farmer. The last thing farmers want is more forms to fill out. Instead, farmers can have a dashboard where they can easily access overnight and real time reports. That will make it easier for them to self-regulate responsibly.

Farmers are on board with this. The biggest challenge will be getting agencies to shift their mindset away from receiving paper reports to an integrated data sharing system. Improving data sharing across the sector benefits the environment, the economy, and the people that work in it.

Why Eightwire?

Eightwire is an innovative platform that automates the integration and security of data exchange, analytics and collaboration programmes for central governments, insurers, health care providers and the agriculture sector.

We founded Eightwire in 2013 and in 2017 we won a major contract with the New Zealand Government to roll out a system to allow multiple agencies to share data on a large scale. The platform now powers the entire government’s data exchange platform and allows government agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to exchange information securely. Some of the crown agencies using the exchange include; Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Health, Department of Corrections, Stats NZ and the NZ Police.

In addition to the public sector, we also work with AMP Insurance Australia, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (UK), and ACC to deliver digital transformation and data exchange.

While working with an agritech software provider we realised that data was a huge challenge for the agriculture sector as well and so we looked at how we could make things easier for farmers. Our solution not only benefits the farmer but also the government, regulators, and regional councils. We’ve done this kind of work before in the social and NGO sectors so we know it can be done.

We are a solution for large companies involved in agriculture who have direct relationships with farmers. This system would work really well with cooperatives like Fonterra, suppliers like Ravensdown and software companies like Farm IQ. We can work with different parts of the agritech ecosystem. Our mission is to make it easier for farmers to leverage data to be more productive and environmentally responsible.

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