Industry Focus: Farm Management Technology
Do you enjoy having fuel to power your home and vehicle? What about food; do you like to eat? And clothes? Do you like having them hung in the closet, ready to be worn? You likely answered yes to all of these; everyone needs these basic things to function in society. Therefore, it would be to the benefit of everyone if more professionals put time and energy into producing these products more efficiently, using farm management software. If you have a knack for software development, marketing, or communications, go ahead and make yourself at home in the agricultural industry – you’re needed here.
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The Need for Farm Management Technology
It’s no secret that our population is steadily increasing without any sign of stopping. Some experts, such as Jonathon Foley with National Geographic, predict we will reach 9 billion people by year 2050; others, like the United Nations, suggest our population will be closer to 10 billion. Either way, a few billion more people will be joining us here on earth and will need places to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, and fuel to burn. They will likely build homes where livestock are grazing and crops are growing today as urban sprawl continues, but where then, will all these extra resources come from?
They will come from the farms that learn to make the best use of the resources and technologies available to them, and you have the chance to develop them. Today’s farmers need software that manages farm data and produces digestible and actionable feedback that can be used to make management decisions.
These agriculturalists need up to date snapshots of their current costs per acre, livestock gestation progress, herd or crop health, equipment maintenance history, etc. On top of all that, they also need tools to help them manage their financial statements and make their operations as profitable as possible. This software and technology must continually be created, adapted, and executed as the world of agriculture evolves to meet the demands of our growing population.
As consumers demand more insight into their food sources and government regulations and programs are enacted, producers need to more accurately maintain records and provide reports. Technology can streamline recordkeeping, populate reports, and maintain data more accurately and easily than a human and paper system. This saves time, produces useful information, and helps farmers provide accurate information when needed.
Case Study: Profound Disruption Of Even The Most Traditional Industries
Another disruptive factor for the European agricultural ecosystem already looms on the horizon: global climate change and its consequence for age-old farming traditions. One produce the EU is most famous for, especially along the Mediterranean coastlines, is the olive. From health to climate change, the olive sector is at the forefront facing the challenges of extreme weather phenomena, caused by global climate change. However, as the Executive Director of the International Olive Council (IOC), Abdellatif Gedhira, muses that “Olive growing is now a sustainable strategy against climate change.”
More than 1.600 varieties of the olive have been identified and catalogued in more than 22 producing countries, most of them in the EU, with Greece, Spain and Italy leading the sector. A recent EU campaign, “Olive You“, promotes the relevance of this vital economic and nutritional building block, pointing out that the fruits of these varieties help produce an average of 3 million tons of olive oil every year. Many studies show that the olive trees are capable of fixing CO2 in the soil. Thus, the world’s olive oil production alone absorbs the equivalent of carbon emissions of 16.000 people, with the land consumption carefully cultivated over generations, and estimated at about 11 million ha of land, has been stated to store the CO2 equivalent of a megalopolis like Lagos, Nigeria, with 7 million inhabitants.
To battle extreme weather phenomena, and thus resulting damages in the olive harvest, more research and new methods of agriculture will have to be deployed. Over the last couple of years, olive tree orchards have been hit by erratic rainfalls, early spring frosts, strong winds, and more severe than usual summer droughts. The olive trees are weakened by these kinds of extreme weather events, and more often than not, left vulnerable to outbreaks of diseases or olive fly infestations.
Some of the finest olive oil is considered “extra virgin”, based on the high standards of acidity levels of the products. Given the importance of the broad range of fine household products, olive-based meals and condiments, as well as cooking and snacking favourites based on the olive fruit, there are now even sector-wide campaigns to transform the industry to become more sustainable and driven by digital innovations. The impetus for change in this age-old industry has finally mounted to maintain a sustainable harvest for the industry, and the environment.
In the future, consumers can expect olive oils and olive-based products that lack nothing of their known quality, but that can show off a smaller CO2 footprint, a more socially-conscious production chain, and that can demonstrate more eco-friendly handling of natural resources. These promises can only be delivered by the integration of precision farming and smart farming, implementing intelligent hard- and software. It has become commonplace for olive farmers and their corporate partners, and this will even intensify in the future, to focus on every available bit of data acquired through various sources – instrumental, but even historical, geographical and cultural, reconciling this tradition with its digital future.
Current Farm Management Software
Many companies have begun developing software, apps, and devices that are designed to streamline the day-to-day management decisions and duties of a farmer. Some track livestock health, weather, balance sheets, field maps, or any combination of these and other data. These companies’ goals are to help farmers make the best use of their time and resources through data-driven decision making. Some of today’s heavy hitters in farm tech are:
- Climate Fieldview (formerly Vital Fields) (Tallinn, Estonia)
- Field Crop Focused Technologies
- Vital Fields maintains crop data, field maps, and to-do lists. It even helps producers to be compliant with local chemical guidelines with compliance reports and updates chemicals lists.
- Gamaya (Lausanne, Switzerland)
- Crop Imaging and Field Data Reporting
- Gamaya uses hyperspectral imaging to detect disease and collect weather data from your fields to provide you with actionable information for better crop management.
- Agrivi (London, UK; Warsaw, Poland; Kutina, Croatioa)
- Agrivi is a data-analytics system for farmers, wineries, and cooperatives and enterprises in the agricultural sector. Agrivi can be used to monitor sales and finances, crop progress, diseases and pests, clientele, and more. By using algorithms that utilize known averages and current readings, the Agrivi systems create actionable plans for users to put into place to make their operations as efficient and profitable as possible.
- CropX (Tel Aviv, Israel; San Francisco, US)
- CropX employs a set of sensors that are installed in the field to monitor soil moisture. This system communicates with producers via a mobile app and alerts them when the use of irrigation is needed in the field. This allows producers to avoid overwatering and wasting water.
- Granular (San Francisco, US)
- Granular allows farm managers to not only gather and utilize data but to use that information to assign tasks to their teams. Then, the progress of these tasks can be monitored from the same system. Plan, execute, and follow-up all with granular.
- GEA (Düsseldorf, Germany)
- In its animal sector, GEA offers herd-management solutions that benefit both the animals and the producers. From wearable tech for cattle to data management software for caretakers, GEA provides technologies that are advancing the animal agriculture industry.
As you can see, each of these companies offers a different product, but they all aim to help at least one of farmers’ many hats fit a little better.
Career Opportunities in Agtech
While there are already many established companies developing these technologies, the doors are wide open for tech innovators to stake their claim in the industry as well. The possibilities for a tech professional to adapt and create technologies for agriculture are endless as drones, GPS, GIS, iPads, and infrared sensors become more commonplace on the family farm. It is an exciting movement to witness and be involved in as once “crazy” ideas such as self-driving tractors, are coming to life and being implemented in one of the largest, most important industries in the world.
Jobs in Agriculture Technology
- Software Engineering
With each piece of hardware that becomes available, must come a user-friendly interface to get it off the ground. The software that facilitates the interaction between users and technology and that performs tasks that are either too mundane or too difficult for humans is what sells new, innovative tools.
Technology is only as good as its worst days. Producers are limited on time during which they can work, and eliminating hand-ups is most helpful. Excellent programming for the technologies these producers are using in their operations is crucial.
Products with awkward designs or with designs that are not compatible with current equipment are useless in the field. Top-notch designers are needed to streamline the use of their companies’ products by their customers.
- Marketing/ Advertising
A great product is useless if no one buys it. Communications professionals play a key role in conveying to producers the benefits of new technologies and how to best utilize them in their operations.
- Public Relations Management
Have you ever seen your favorite industry-specific magazine running a feature on an emerging idea or piece of tech? It is likely that the tech company’s PR Consultant initiated or was at least involved in the production of the piece. These consultants manage their company’s brand through press and promotion.
- Project Management
The truth is, engineers, designers, and developers are bright, creative people who are full of ideas. To accomplish a task and succinctly develop a new product, the development team requires some leadership. A project manager keeps contributors on task, clarifies ideas, and organizes meetings. Their leadership helps to guide the team to success.
A bachelor’s degree in computer science, software engineering, or another related field would be perfect for an entry-level job-creating farm technology. Luckily, most universities offer degree programs in these areas that will prepare you to enter the innovative workforce. A few of them are:
For non-development careers such as marketing, a degree in a communications-related field would be most helpful.
While no formal education in agriculture is necessary to develop and market these tools, a base knowledge in the many roles a farmer has would be helpful. The programs that software engineers develop for these farmers must be highly specialized, accessible, and user-friendly. As such, having a familiarity with your target user is paramount to making an effective product.
Aside from education, the software engineers that will revolutionize our food and fibre systems will possess certain qualities that will ensure the best contribution to innovation as possible.
- A critical thinker?
- Passionate about protecting the environment?
- Concerned about the conservation of natural resources?
- A team player?
If so, software development, specifically for agricultural use, could be the right fit for you!
Challenges of Establishing Farm Management Technology
Despite the best efforts of software engineers and developers, the ageing farmer population is not always very welcoming to incoming technology. While the children of these farmers are rising to manage the family farms, the average age of farmers is around 54. Therefore, having a skillset based on communication, marketing, and sales can also provide a young professional with a lucrative career in agriculture. Helping farmers see the return on investment, convenience, and benefit to the environment that these tools can provide can be a challenge, but when done right can foster a positive relationship and win-win scenario for all parties involved.
Outlook and Expectations
In this evermore-digital world, the job market for technology developers is expanding. If we would like to combat the current hunger problems many populations are facing and prevent new ones, food, fuel, and fibre must be produced more efficiently and plentifully. To achieve this, technological advancements in management practices must be made and enacted on farms around the globe. These advancements need to erase any guesswork from management decisions and help farmers articulate to the rest of the world the details of the highly specialized, varied, and important work that they do.
If you are passionate about feeding the world, looking for a creative career, and have skills in software development or communications, the agriculture tech market is the place for you!
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