Farming in the cloud

Article taken from The Farmers Club Winter Journal, written by Charles Abel

CLOUD-BASED farming isn’t a new take on weather dependent food production.  Instead it is the future of agricultural decision-making, according to a leading provider of inputs and farm advice.

“With cloud-based computing, which effectively allows individuals to access powerful computing power via the web, farmers can get hold of all the key information they need, in real-time, to make much better farming decisions,” says Nick Rainsley of Nottingham-based Agrovista, which operates across the UK.

The idea is that farm information can be gathered, processed and exchanged, to drive better physical and financial performance.  The potential downside is that there is just so much information raining down on farmers, who lack the time or resources to process it properly, Mr Rainsley notes.

That is where web hubs come into play, giving farmers instant access to the key knowledge required, and more importantly the processing power to turn it into something useful.

“Web hubs allow farmers to modernize the farm office, and their back-office systems, with the latest technology, providing full back-up and sharing of information in and out of the business, in real-time, and even providing the potential for paperless end-user auditing,” Mr Rainsley notes.

He sees it as the future of farming.  “As more of the practical side of farming becomes automated, farmers and operators are going to be able to spend more time managing operations instead of doing them.  Farmers will increasingly benefit from automated data gathering around the farm, which is processed in real-time, to help them make better informed business decisions.”

One such hub is Axis, the Agrovista eXchange Information System, which has been a pace-setter for collating key information and presenting it in a way farmers, and their advisers, can best utilise.

Significantly, it can be accessed from any computer, anywhere an internet connection can be made.  Office PCs, laptops, tablets and smart phones can all be used, making it accessible in the farm office, in the field and in the tractor cab.

The basic service gives users access to a library of all their old and new field recommendations, plus a web-based weather forecasting, a regularly updated information archive including plant variety information and agrochemical product labels, data sheets, health and safety guidance, product stewardship and NVZ information, plus links to other information sources.

The basic service also allows tasks to be set and monitored, tutorials followed and files to be uploaded, effectively providing a backup incase the PC crashes.  Account and invoice details are shown for Agrovista customers, for whom the Bronze service is free.

The Silver service adds the functionality of linking into Muddy Boots Greenlight Grower Management software, which is widely used by agronomists to better manage crops photos during season and draft, planned and applied application records.  It also includes and Agroget calendar pre-loaded with key cross-compliance dates and single payment scheme deadlines, and technical newsletters and trials results.

The Gold level goes one step further, integrating mapping from a range of suppliers, to create an overall farm mapping package, giving field-specific information at the touch of a button, all provided by powerful software, hosted on the web, in the cloud.

The mapping package not only allows maps to be stored, but more importantly automatically integrates them, to create an overall picture, accessible through the hub’s field management dashboard, where cropped area, average yield, variety and seasonal progress can all be viewed.

“Overlaying maps and data to build up an overall picture is a key benefit, helping farmers, and their advisers, assess future needs, and create input plans and maps for the season ahead,” notes Mr Rainsley.

The hub also gives the farm’s agronomist access to the information, with the farmer’s prior permission.  That means input recommendations are seamlessly uploaded, so all the farmer needs to do is print it off as a worksheet, confident that all the data has already been captured into the system.

Indeed, in the near future operators will be able to receive the latest recommendation on their smart phone in the field, update details such as date, time, application information and products used, and file their application record directly into Axis, with no need to complete any paperwork or rekey it into the crop records once back in the farm office. “Press the send button and the paperwork is done for you,” enthuses Mr Rainsley.

Access can also be granted to others involved with the farm, such as contractors, ensuring they have access to the most up-to-the-minute information possible.

At a business level the hub allows quotes to be obtained for inputs, including seed and fertilisers, for example, and will embrace traceability and assurance record keeping too in future.

With more features planned farming in the cloud looks set to help farmers boost field performance with a whole lot less hassle.

 

02 December 2013

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