Innovation in farming

21.02.13 Innovation in farming discussion archive

AgriChatUK participants are an innovative bunch! There were some great examples and pictures of on farm inventions and adaptations of kit.

It was generally agreed that software development was integral for ease of tech integration with businesses, and that apps have the potential to be developed for a whole range of ideas, but ultimately a decent broadband and mobile signal is needed to underpin this development.

Innovation and knowledge transfer go hand-in-hand, and IT and electronics are leading the way in R&D within the sector. Waste, education, succession and red tape were highlighted as areas where the industry lacks innovation.

More funding is needed to encourage technology advances but this should not be to the point where farming and food loses its connection with the consumer.

The discussion held on Thursday 21st February 2013 looked at the topic of “Innovation in farming” and generated a total of 545 tweets on the topic from 93 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisers, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics and NFU officeholders, as well as members of the general public.

Q1a What machinery or equipment have you, or someone you know, made or adapted in your farm workshop?

  • Some examples from the FW farm inventions competition. What do you think of these?
  • Not a new idea, but we put a hedgecutter’s hydraulic ram on our old Taarup mower to speed up folding out.
  • Decided 2 make an on farm incinerator for our poultry farm 11 years ago
  • I’ve built a hedder trailer and sheep self-feeders in my workshop
  • Not quite farming but my father built a barrel wash to sell the coal on our land
  • Some growers seem to make lettuce seeding machines better than the manufacturers
  • Made/modified a few bits of kit. Too much for 140 characters! Always got something on the go in workshop.
  • A farmer in MP, India devised ways to reuse residual matter through self-made instrument chain to replenish Zinc in soil
  • We have a grower who made their own anaerobic digester, no mean feat, says he wouldn’t do it again though
  • I made a folding frame to join 3 2 meter wide roller weedwipers together to make a 6m machine that could also be 4 m or 2m
  • This ones in the workshop just now… Quaddy for injecting liquid fert
  • Designing multiple sensing and networking solutions for farmer assistance

Q2a How can apps/software and other information technology help your business?

  • We collect all your data in a single place, allowing you to make sound production decisions right on time
  • Waiting for a @FarmersWeekly job app!! Great website deserves an app to follow it on!
  • Most glasshouse growers can now control the climate in the nursery remotely on their smartphone
  • Internet and social media makes the world a small place, interesting people and ideas worldwide!
  • Apps for Agriculture essentially of types- weather, news, management, market, data logs and guidance tools
  • We use teamviewer app to access our poultry sheds pc and take control via the smartphone.
  • Apps with market info can directly link stakeholders avoiding middlemen. They help suggest results for better business
  • More and more of use twitter app to instantly share information such as chick health issues amongst ourselves
  • Data log apps maintain important records allowing organized procedures to be followed in farm. Makes it easier basically

Q2b What dream technology/software/app/kit would you want and what would it do?

  • We’re developing multiple farm solution apps for farmers with interface specification for low literacy users
  • Would love an app that I could use to check my cows/calving cows when I am tied up at an event flipping burgers
  • Simple, we would like decent broadband and mobile signal everywhere, not just on top of the wardrobe!
  • SMS solutions more imp. than app in India at present. Smartphone usage difficult among remote area farmers. Literacy issue
  • iPhone app and plug in adapter to read EID to phone and sync medical records, movements
  • I think a robot that plants the crop, grows it, picks & packs it then negotiates the best price would sell well
  • Most modern security cameras have apps that run on smartphones to show images remotely
  • I would like a hovercraft with a 3 point linkage! Would have helped last year!

Q2c Is sharing data & information for the greater good of the industry or is it detrimental by empowering your competitors?

  • Data share almost always better for all stakeholders. Markets mostly benefited. Very big players can act as facilitators
  • Sharing info with other farmers is good, sharing with trade sometimes not so good
  • We have almost finished developing a platform for farmers to offer independent reviews on products they have genuine ex with
  • Fresh produce is as competitive as any other industry so innovation by growers tends to stay in house for a while
  • Greater good. It not only empowers competitors, it empowers US ALL
  • Information flow builds up hubs in small locations enabling distributed development with interlinking businesses!
  • Data and information sharing benefits everyone long term, a short term advantage soon fades

Q2d Knowledge transfer has changed dramatically recently but are we making the most of the technology we have available?

  • We are spending far too long putting info in before we get sensible manageable info out
  • Having the technology available is all well and good as long as it is affordable to the majority
  • Phone/Smartphone, IVR, SMS, GPRS, Internet, Apps + Human operators and distributors make a useful network. Integration imp!
  • Sharing knowledge &opinion is such a valuable tool, however the tendency for negative comment seems to outweigh the positive
  • Need to provide ICT solutions to ones working for ag development at base level. Structured flow important. Working on it.
  • Partially yes; but must remember tech in not delivered finished. Enduser is part of the testing – use will improve w/time
  • Remember innovation and invention are two different things; innovation doesn’t have to use the newest tech!

Q3a With poor weather conditions would you consider innovative cropping plans to tackle longer term problems?

  • Great point! Research to focus on present and future with every agriculture solution. Changes are fast but we have old knowledge
  • I think we will see “forced innovation” this season – with no choice but to do things differently
  • Plans for next 30 yrs can well use trends over past 200 yrs. Lot of historic scenarios to learn from. Lab tests are a + too
  • Yes soils are no1, more spring crops and use of cover crops in future and controlled traffic
  • The wet weather last year has forced us to change cropping plans this year
  • To do this monitoring of weather conditions is important to be able to compare the success of plans put in place / tested
  • Innovation plans will be great support in tackling weather problems and drastic changes

Q3b With machinery getting bigger and heavier so what can be done to protect the soil structure?

  • Controlled traffic wheelings could help soil structure
  • Centralizing stationary components with smaller portable modules wherever possible.
  • Setting up norms and policies on machinery design with soil layer specifications
  • Tend to use rubber tracks rather than tyres to reduce compaction and keep soil structure
  • Farm Yard Manure!! Especially pig!

Q3d With all the extreme weather affecting margins, how important are monitoring equipment and do you plan to use any?

  • Monitoring and sensing both are primary components in farm support through ICT. We’re building up device for same
  • Best monitoring equipment in wet conditions is a spade
  • Building devices to monitor and analyze smallest variations in weather nd soil. Multiple location deployments encouraged
  • We monitor the state of margins aerially, is something we do routinely as part of our ag environment surveys

Q4a What areas of agriculture are leading the way in innovation?

  • Making GM crops with literally 0% compromise. If it works out. Nothing like it really
  • IT and most electronics are going to push agricultural innovation for the future
  • Drones and robotics (just a modern name for driverless tractors!)
  • The livestock sector is brill at the little inventions making day 2 day life easier. Arable folk are better at systemic stuff
  • John Deere Earns Recognition as Top 100 Global Innovator 
  • Is Ag R&D funding being cut in the UK (like Australia) or being increased?
  • development of crops capable of withstanding extreme weather

Q4b What areas of agriculture are lacking in innovation?

  • The main area of Ag that lacks innovation in my mind is the reduction of and utilisation of waste in its widest definition
  • Sustainable lands reuse solutions. Didn’t see much research focus here
  • Succession
  • Reducing red tape really lacks innovation
  • Agriculture education also. Theory, field and research need integration. That will allow innovation everywhere

Q4c What issues/challenges does agriculture need to focus its innovation on tackling and where would you like R&D focused?

  • What worries me is technology romping ahead & solving problems industry faces – but we’re not taking the public with us
  • BIG issue of growing population and exhaustive agriculture land. Bring all areas of R&D to unite and solve this
  • To really make use of innovation there needs to be a focus on awareness, no one will adopt it if they don’t understand it
  • Ensuring food security + increasing crop productivity. Conserving water + reusing land. Bring every1 and everything on table

Q4d In what ways could things like the Rural Development Programme help and support innovation?

  • Funding! Innovation usually misses out corporate money and suffers financially. Rural development programmes can help
  • RDP could help uptake of innovation with grant aid – puts tech into hands that otherwise would not/could not invest in it
  • Rural development programmes find out people who actually work for development and not money. Great to find co-workers
  • Most important thing about invention and innovation is that it works not that it earns grant aid
  • ICT solutions need big programmes in India to popularize them without causing fear among farmers. Acceptance not easy

Q5 Will too much technology, like driverless tractors, make farming lose its heart?

  • It will change Ag very much. But there was resistance against the tractor, and people did lose their jobs
  • Working myself with technology, I can surely say we won’t let this happen. Experienced farmer and Training data not same!
  • A danger too much technology disconnects farmers from their land/livestock etc. As in the public disconnecting from their food!
  • Tough hand work might change but it will change for good. And ultimately, no technology can replace a real farmer.
  • Driverless tractors = steering wheel attendant very dull
  • Technology changes all walks of life, if focus is on diversity and quality of what is produced, farming will keep its heart

Q6a What ideas and innovations can agriculture learn or borrow from other industries?

  • Its impact will enable learning existing infrastructure and applying it into agriculture.
  • From IT services, data logging and monitoring. Agriculture data needs to be valued. Every farmer is important in this.
  • Historically lots of Military Tech has found its way into Ag and I think this will continue. Swords into Ploughshares
  • From education, providing organized trainings with ICT deployments
  • Industries already dependent on managing large data volumes. Apps, tractors, sensors etc. all creating lots of data
  • Use of GPRS communication & the push for current conditions to be monitored in infrastructure, ecology, hydrology etc.

Q6b What ideas and innovations can other industries take from agriculture?

  • Biotechnology in its widest format that has material gains/benefits not just directly for farmers e.g. animal welfare
  • Agriculture essentially is the root of everything. It’s the act of sowing, growing, living nd then repeating.
  • Been pointing out for years that other industries could learn a lot from the way British Sugar use and/or resell everything
  • The way a crop needs cultivation, education is the same. The right application of everything at right time.

Q7: Finish this sentence “Hello Dragons. You have the opportunity to invest in my innovative farming idea which is……”

  • A cloud-based farm management tool
  • Nitrogen-fixing perennial wheat
  • Going to feed the world! Have faith in your farmers because they will rise to the challenge!
  • Bolt on marker arms for cultivators a fraction of the price of GPS
  • I need £100m for 15% of the business to create Nitrogen fixing, black grass eating bacteria!
  • THAT is a huge question…. Also drawn a complete blank. Every day is innovative on our place!
  • to make a network solution with real time weather and soil data, with monitoring and analysis, local language interface with training models, market connection, guidance support and all time inter agriculture stakeholder knowledge network.

Simon Haley, Reading Agricultural Consultants, and Alan Spedding, 26 February 2013

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