A new internet tool brings together agricultural experts and farmers as they learn to live in the new COVID-19 reality
Rob Saik had some ideas about agronomy and husbandry delivery, coming out of the sale of his Agritrend company to technology giant Trimble.
“I had learned a lot over the years about what we could do to deliver information to farmers. And what farmers are willing to pay for and when,” he said in a recent interview.
He said the trouble comes when they go looking for expert assistance, where do they turn? The industry has become so specialized in many cases that the people with the answers are often few and far between. And despite the power of the internet, they are not always easily identified or contacted.
Government exodus from agricultural extension provision is ongoing, reducing the free availability of knowledge and increasing the overall demand.
Saik knew from dealing with his senior agrologists and technology specialists at Agritrend that they too had difficulties finding the farmers or fellow agrologists who were willing to pay for their expertise.
About a year ago, he started development of an online platform to allow the two to hook-up and launched it in its preliminary phase at the Saskatoon area farm show Ag in Motion.
AgVisor Pro connects people looking for agricultural information and assistance with the people who have it. The price is established based on experience and blocks of time and the system takes care of billing and managing the relationship, which is often an awkward phase of information sharing in agriculture.
Social distancing in the time of COVID-19 has further exacerbated the issue of reaching out for assistance or providing consultations.
“People aren’t looking to have someone come by to help, or go out on a call either,” said Saik.
Agricultural application specialist Tom Wolf has begun offering consultations through the AgVisor Pro.com platform.
“It does provide an interesting method of delivery and it has some novel tools built into it,” he said.
He said one of those allows him to accept an inquiry immediately, in five minutes or schedule a time the future, depending on what else he is doing. He feels the billing format based on time provides some additional focus for the farmer and the provider to remain centred on the issue at hand.
“The instant FaceTime, Zoom-like feature with a live meeting and the ability to turn the phone to the equipment or plant problem, and discuss it as though you were right there is very useful,” he said.
“We are going to learn some things during this COVID-cloud we are in. Things about information delivery are part of that,” said Wolf.
“There are 160, 180 or so of us there now. It has a lot possibilities for farmers,” he said.
Wolf joins a variety of providers, including precision agriculture, insect and other pest specialists, livestock and business advisers for everything from marketing and property management to farm transition. Saik said there are other opportunities.
“I think we could also be using the platform to deliver mental health services too. But the funding for that might need to be a bit different, but the platform is here,” he said.
He said the timing of the COVID-19 crisis is putting his new system to a test.
Saik said he and his team have just closed the secondary-funding stage of the business and continue to refine and expand the user’s experience. It offers audio and video connections, text and photo-sharing services.