As data-enabled agriculture is accelerating in adoption and impact, enabling quick, simple interrogation of data and rapid actionable insights has never been more important.
That is the view of the Agri-TechE network, which includes organisations which have developed platforms to gather, manage and analyse data in an unprecedented way, yielding new, real-time insights and ways of informing decision-making.
The National Food Strategy shows that growers receive the lowest returns in the supply chain and this needs to change, argues Antony Yousefian, agritech director of Bardsley England, Kent, one of the largest top fruit growers in the UK, at 840 hectares.
He is also CEO of the agritech company he is incubating in the business, Bx.
Mr Yousefian describes farming as extreme manufacturing that is high risk but the least digital industry on the planet.
“It is not a technology problem it is a people problem. Risk management has been done elsewhere in industries such as banking. We need to take those people who have solved risk management in those industries and bring them into our industry.”
Improving feedback loops, which are slow in agriculture, could help, he explains.
“Feeding back what is happening in R&D, what is happening on-farm or in production, is analogue. The right people can solve this. In banks in the 1980s and 1990s it was pen and paper. In agriculture a lot of processes are pen and paper.”
“Their feedback loops were days. With digital transformation they are now nanoseconds. We are about to see a Big Bang moment in agriculture.”
“If we can incubate agritech on farm, feedback loops will become rapid knock-down barriers in agriculture and the speed of development will go through the roof.”
The tech team at Bardsley England are all from outside agriculture, says Mr Yousefian.
“There are many experts in agriculture around the business. We are bringing people in from Google, Microsoft, virtual gaming companies – people who are experts with data, can understand it and work with farmers to get deeper understanding.”
The team has started by building databases, says Mr Yousefian.
“With a bottom-up approach, we are bringing data standardisation to every single orchard which allows us to put in different data pipelines, such as weather feeds and data from satellites, easily and we can start managing data very well.”
The new data infrastructure has generated insights that can reduce waste, explains Mr Yousefian.
Quality control “At harvest, every harvested bin of apples is geotagged and QR coded. The team has also set up a feature where the farm manager gets an instant alert when deterioration in grading or quality of picking is picked up by quality control.”
“Before it was pen and paper and we didn’t know about any fall in quality in the picking process.”
The feedback loop was days, sometimes even weeks when [quality deterioration was] spotted in store later.
“Now as soon as the problem has been digitally alerted and someone has checked they can instantly alert not only the farm manager, but the store team and packhouse team who can quickly shift the affected bin of apples to pack straight away. Before, waiting for someone to enter data into a spreadsheet could take days or weeks.”
Using the new data set-up, apps can also be developed in minutes, he says.
“We have had frost events just recently and can spin up an app to capture data on what is happening regarding frost damage in an orchard in 10 minutes.”
“We can quickly quantify the damage to orchards from frost and the impact on forecast and budget. This used to take weeks. If farm managers come to us with ideas, we can do rapid product innovation.”