Jackie Harrigan

AgResearch scientists painted a picture of how technology might drive increased productivity at last month’s SIDE conference in Invercargill.

Jeremy Bryant and Warren King from the AgResearch farm systems and environment team talked about how precision cropping is here now and a long way ahead of pastoral farming, but they see the evolution of smart future farms as being small and smart, with survey drones, fleets of agribots collecting data, smart tractors and farming data dashboards alongside texting cows wearing embedded technology measuring their temperatures and rumination among other metrics.

For example, measuring pasture can be done by satellite, and new technology will in the future see it being done using drones, fixed cameras and roaming pasture robots.

Farmers need to get insights into the coming technologies despite connectivity issues. Bryant said.

“Farms these days need to be operating a quadruple bottom line – following economic, environmental, social and cultural outcomes. They will need multiple data sources and technologies, with structured and unstructured datasets.”

Farmers at the conference session pushed back saying they are data-rich and time-poor.

“Computer nerds love buttons – we don’t.”

Poor coverage is an issue for many farmers, others felt they had too much data and not enough information, and another, too much data, all at once and not enough support to understand or interpret it.

Another problem was too many developers and not enough integration with multiple platforms and multi data entry, causing double-up data entry which was seen as a huge time waster.

They encouraged service providers to consider farmer concerns, including:

  • Focus on insights, not just data
  • Assist with farmer connectivity
  • Develop low cost sensors
  • Focus on data and model interoperability
  • Ensure data ownership remains in the hands of farmers, not large organisations
  • Work on the value propositions – what value does this technology bring to the farmer on his farm.

Visualising data

Bryant outlined AgResearch’s two-year project to prove the concept of technology uptake, using visualisation for farmers to experience a smart farm.

“The outcome is to enable and support the transition to a smart farm – allowing farmers to see through visual images how the data from a smart farm is understood and used.”

The group are working with Dunedin’s ARL to combine the science plus digital data plus visualisation to help farmers to understand aspects or data integration into farming practice.

The facts

Smart farms require:

  • Use of sensors for tracking animal health, monitoring infrastructure
  • Most effective use of infrastructure through AI (artificial intelligence) and data analytics
  • Engaging with people in open and innovative processes
  • Technology learning/adapting and innovating in response to changing circumstances, leading to improved intelligence.