Digitizing Agriculture: Applications of Farm Data

We miss our field visits and all the lush green farmlands we are used to seeing. Since work from home has begun, all farmer-interactions have turned digital while our face-to-face interactions grew faint.

In reminiscent of those moments spent on the field, I particularly recall an intriguing discussion that I had with a farmer from Solhapur on one of my field visits.

While taking notes on his farm data (or of what he could recall) to give him his farm business summary and insights, he asked, “How is this historical data helping me anyway? I know my inflows and outflows by heart and that is enough.”

At that point in time, my brief to him was simple – To know better about your farm and make better farming decisions.

His then unconvincing nod to my response kept me thinking what the true value of this farm data from a farmers’ perspective is.

And like any agribusiness professional would, I investigated the value of farm data for agribusinesses.

Capturing farm data

If you are not capturing the right data then you’d be in a bigger problem.

There are many methodologies to capture data but only the right combination of these would fulfill your objective.

1. Farmers manually feed the data into the system via a farm app or web interface.

2. Field Executive/Farm Managers relied upon as the local player to ensure data entry and farm data validation.

3. UAVs or Drones for mapping of farms to identify nutrient, soil moisture levels, geo-fencing, crop health monitoring and pest control.

4. IoT Sensors equipping farmers with data points like weather, field’s temperature, humidity, soil moisture and atmospheric data.

5. GIS technology captures via satellite on variables such as soil type, rainfall prediction, and wind direction for decision-making to maximize crop yield, provide yield prediction and maintain overall farm health.

Creating value and Application of farm data

How can I create value from farm data even if I successfully capture it? What are the data applications which help in complete crop management?

There are two viewpoints here: Farmers and Agribusinesses

Viewpoint 1: Farmers

Farm data is utilized to ensure high productivity and returns per crop which in turn leads to increased revenue per farm. The key value creation can be seen in below aspects:

1. Assistance in farm crop activities:

Digitization of farms directly benefits in end-to-end crop health management. All the necessary data points captured and processed can provide farmers with a personalized crop schedule for each farm. This would ensure that farmers get a step-by-step understanding of how crucial each farm activity would be in determining their farm yield by activity-linked predicting deviance.

2. Pest and disease management:

Only if crops could speak for themselves farmers would have known which ones are susceptible to pests and diseases. But until the point we reach that point in future, farmers can be rest assured for farm imagery to provide these insights. This ensures a healthy harvest for the market to gain high returns and reduce cost on curing crops.

3. Nutrition management:

Identifying the right dosage of nutrition is dependent on the soil health, the crop and its life cycle stage. But given how uneven the nutritional content within soil is, use of technology to map soil health at various spatial areas of the land under the same crop is vital for efficiency. Thanks to the sensors, for making it possible to accurately identify which area needs precise nutritional dose optimizing on the fertilizers costs.

4. Farm inventory management:

Farm inventory items are often noted as a component of overall costs. Farmers however fail to ascertain inventory cost per farm thereby remaining unaware of per farm cost. With digitization this process becomes easier. Using crop schedule guides you through farm activities identifying points of inventory utilization ensuring efficient purchase management.

5. Farm reports analysis:

Generating reports at the end of the season becomes smooth with graphs and charts of all the farm data. Farm P&L when visualized is a definite value add. Being stored in the cloud the worry of losing books or not using the data at all is never a worry for digitized farms. With each consecutive farm reports’ analysis, there is a learning opportunity for the farmers to initiate better farming methodologies.

Viewpoint 2: Agribusinesses

For Agribusinesses, it is the aggregation and analysis of farmers’ data that creates value.

1. Managing farmers’ network:

Value is in the farm data analytics which summarizes and visualizes farm data to make the decisions on-the-go. Within a week of cropping season, the live farm data can provide key insights for planning of large activities for the rest of the season. For instance, crop management data visualized in charts to see the number of farmers growing X crop under certain Y acreage with Z variety provides insight for estimating sourcing potential for procurement companies.

2. Developing better products:

Digitized agricultural farms enable R&D capabilities by capturing farm data points that were previously not introduced at large scale. For agri-input companies, evaluating product performance on a day-to-day basis and overall is similar to receiving unhindered live feedback. For crop insurance and financial lending companies it adds to the farmer profile information where they can estimate risk beforehand by simplifying validation.

3. Ensuring quality food for sourcing:

Pest and disease incidence data for food sourcing companies helps to identify probable farm produce failure on desired residue levels and decreased yield. Decisions on testing and managing supply can be taken with this input. Weather forecasts can provide necessary alerts on potential damage to farm produce. Alerting farmers to ensure necessary steps are taken complying with quality standards.

4. Value added services for farmers:

Initiate and foster better farmer relations with farm data. In AgTech space, ‘-as-a-service’ business models benefit more from the farm data by creating and delivering services to farmers. By applying AI and ML algorithms to data on cloud for creating a better crop activity schedule and delivering advisory services against a charge.

5. Operations and Supply chain management:

Farm inventory and crop data gives agribusinesses a view on the total business potential for the season. Businesses can achieve high operational efficiency with live farm data by –
Activating appropriate sales channels and enabling sales tactics.
Cordial supply chain management to fulfill demand.
For farm output, yield estimation and prediction data provides insights on procurement and downstream activities of agribusinesses.

Taking A Different Approach

In retrospect, if I had the earlier mentioned conversation again what would I do differently? How would I help a farmer understand and convince of the importance of farm data?

Imagine you’re running a general store.

As a shopkeeper, you’d gather all relevant accounting information. The number of customers in a week, types of items purchased, volume and value of each and so on.

This historical data helps you manage your inventory, identify customer’s preferences, optimize on lead time and much more with the goal of reducing costs and increasing revenue.

Just like a shop, your farm data should be gathered in systematic order to help you farm better tomorrow. It is about creating farm-intelligence out of the farm data.

It empowers you with data-backed decision making ability. By taking a systematic approach, identifying farm problems, key crop growth drivers and managing capital becomes much easier.

What you need is a system that translates data into actionable insights for farmers.

Hopefully, this time around, farmers would be convinced and if they’re moved, who knows, they might even take action.

The way forward

As we move into a world where the population is burgeoning at an exponential rate, there is a need to step up agricultural production to keep up. As the land resources are finite, there needs to be a way to sustainably use the land we do have to maximize output. These new proprietary solutions such as Farm Management ERPs and Farm Management software help farmers find new ways to optimize their resources, land, labour and more.

With these new ERPs, farming has become an easier and more profitable business. The industry is slowly adopting agri-tech innovations and modernized processes to meet the challenges of feeding the world population. Smart farming, vertical farming, urban farming and a host of other innovations in the space are very promising and with farms becoming more and more like factories, the quality and reliability of the produce is unmatched.

Only the farmers who adopt these new technologies will come out stronger than the competition. Farming is now just as tech-savvy as any other industrial sector and agriculturists need to keep up and catch up with the times.

en_USEnglish