Digital agriculture: the next green revolution?

Data collection methods are still emerging but the transformation change in the industry is exciting, says farmer

The adoption of digital technology on the farm represents the next Green Revolution in agricultural production.

That’s according to business leaders who attended the 2017 Farms.com Precision Agriculture Conference in Saskatoon Oct. 25.

“We absolutely think the next green revolution in agriculture is going to be centred on data and data science,” said Denise Hockaday, Canadian business lead for Climate Corp.

“We know that even if you put great products into the field and you protect them with great crop protection products, there’s still a level of variability that needs to be managed.”

“We need to learn more about that variability and we need to have greater insights into it so we can make appropriate management decisions. That’s where data and data science is going to come into play.”

According to Hockaday, agricultural producers have only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to realizing the full potential of digital data collection on the farm.

To different degrees, western Canadian farmers have been collecting data for decades.

But in the last decade or so, the emergence of digital data has begun to transform modern agriculture.

Today, new technologies and products based on digital data are constantly emerging. Modern farmers have more information at their fingertips than ever before.

The ability to share, analyze and use that data to boost on-farm productivity is the latest challenge facing technology companies.

Hockaday said farmers’ ability to employ digital data hinges on the industry’s ability to develop products that allow users to collect and analyze data quickly and easily.

“Farmers are busy. They don’t have a lot of time and that’s been one of the frustrations so far,” she said.

Software solutions that allow farmers to manage their data must be user-friendly, inexpensive and hassle-free.

They should also be multi-functional and capable of collecting digital information from a wide variety of sources and across various brands.

Customer support will also be critically important, she said.

Wade Barnes, a Manitoba farmer who founded Farmer’s Edge, agreed that digital data collection and analytics has the potential to transform modern agriculture.

But much of that potential will be lost if the industry fails to develop products that offer “integrated solutions.”

Growers do not have time to become familiar with several different software programs that offer advice on different aspects of their farming operation.

They want a system that allows them to manage everything through one platform, from seeding and fertility rates to timing of herbicide and fungicide applications to optimal combine speeds and grain storage solutions.

The companies that develop the most flexible and reliable integrated software products will emerge as dominant players as the industry.

“I think the sad part about it is that when the dust settles, there probably won’t be that many players left and that’s unfortunate, because if anything, farmers want choice,” Barnes said.

“There’s a lot of big companies out there right now that are going to be looking to build platforms to compete (in digital agriculture) and I think, unfortunately, you’ll see some great tech companies get swallowed up by bigger companies.”

That said, it’s an exciting time to be involved in agriculture, he added.

“I think we’re (in a) really lucky time to be involved in agriculture right now because we’re actually going to see another really big transformative change in the industry.”

There was the green revolution, which I wasn’t around for, but I was lucky enough to be around when Roundup Ready crops came in and no-till. My view is that this is another chance to see something significantly huge happen in agriculture.”

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