Report urges farmers to embrace technology, base decisions on data not intuition

The intellectual power needed to make accurate decisions on the farm "has now moved beyond human capacity".
The intellectual power needed to make accurate decisions on the farm "has now moved beyond human capacity". Photo credit: Getty

A new report is urging farmers to start basing their decisions on hard data rather than past experience and intuition, saying the agriculture sector needs to make a greater use of technology.

The 'Digital Pathway to Power' report, created by agribusiness banking company Rabobank, says the complexity of the decisions needed on farm nowadays means that farmers need to adapt with the times if they want to keep up. 

It says adaptation is necessary due to growing farm sizes, changing climate and increasing regulations - 

"More and more commonly, we're seeing farmers having to make decisions with a lower level of confidence," says Rabobank agricultural analyst Wes Lefroy, the report's lead author.  

"For many, these are complex decisions about situations they haven't had to face in their entire careers."

Lefroy said the intellectual power needed to make accurate decisions on farm "has now moved beyond human capacity", arguing there is "greater need for technology to play a central role".

However, because of the "significant investment of funds and time" needed to implement and extract value from technology, farmers had been slow to make use of it, Lefroy said.

He said there were two major hurdles limiting the capacity of technology on farms.

Firstly, technology has so far lacked the ability to collect data from the required number of variables.

"For example, when farmers are making decisions about nitrogen applications, they are having to estimate current plant nitrogen status and responsiveness to additional applications, as we do not have the tools to measure all the factors that influence those variables in a cost-effective manner at a high spatial resolution," Lefroy said.

The other hurdle was that in many cases, analysis tools do not account for different relationships between those variables.

"And the actual process of collecting data, analysing it and acting on it is arduous and complex, which limits return on investment and increases the opportunity cost."

The report lays out a framework for farmers and farm input companies to enhance the capability of the role of technology in the sector focusing on four steps that need to be considered.

Those steps include:

  • Collection of the right data for all the physical on-farm variables in the required resolution and quality.
  • The automatic transfer of data collected to an analytical platform in a safe and timely manner – currently "the main pain point for many farmers across the globe", the report says.
  • Analysis tools that process a succinct answer/solution in a form that is easy for farmers with little or no experience to interpret.
  • Autonomous execution of a response, with greater speed and accuracy than traditional execution techniques.

Lefroy said the effective use of technology as outlined in the report would not only trigger deeper relationships between farmers and the agricultural supply chain, but would also lead to increased financial returns.