An inability to share data is disadvantaging the New Zealand agriculture industry. Sheryl Haitana reports.

The latest technology and the issue of data sharing was up for discussion at the MobileTech conference held at Rotorua in April.

More than the new technology being developed, it’s accessing and sharing the data that is going to be significant. Data is the oil of the 21st century, Microsoft national technology officer Russell Craig says.

“When I look across New Zealand, we have awesome amounts of data sitting across this country that’s pertinent to the future of our primary industries. But it’s trapped.

“Its value goes unacknowledged and there is huge disincentives to share it. More than the shiny technology it’s the data that matters.”

People are scared to share data and it’s short sighted, he says.

Microsoft has a growing global interest in the primary industries, agriculture and horticulture, and it’s becoming an ever-larger part of the company’s global business, Russell says.

“We are looking for the opportunities to engage, collaborate, and contribute.”

Farmax general manager Gavin McEwen agreed that the lack of sharing data was disadvantaging the NZ agriculture industry.

Agritech can offer substantial benefits, but information technology has so far failed NZ agriculture, he says.

“We should be 10 years ahead of where we are. Farmers – the very people we are trying to help – are suffering. The uptake of ag tech is still relatively poor.”

There is a lack of integration and collaboration between companies and different systems, McEwen says.

“For a small well-connected country, we are crap at integration and collaboration.”

There is no single IT system that delivers everything a farm business requires. There is a lot of systems that meet some of the requirements, but most of them don’t have the ability to easily exchange data, he says.

“It’s frustrating farmers and it’s holding farmers back.”

There have been some good examples of agri tech offering value to NZ farmers. Livestock Improvement Minda offers a very strong and compelling value to dairy farmers and is worth $3 billion to the industry, he says.

LIC and Fonterra, which hold a majority of data from the dairy industry, have built the Agrigate tool together – but it doesn’t have the ability to integrate with multiple other systems to extract more value.

Xero is a good example of a platform that NZ agriculture should be able to replicate, Gavin says. Xero’s system has been developed in a way that can integrate with up to 75 other systems and companies to add value to its customers.

McEwen told technology developers at the conference they were targeting a market that didn’t have a lot of time to waste so their products must be simple and add value to farmers.

A lot of technology systems and apps are not simple or easy to use and don’t deliver what the consumer actually wants, he says.

The double entry of data also turns farmers off hence another reason why it’s so important to integrate systems and share data.