Monday, April 22, 2024

Breaking tech barriers

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Research shows there are numerous barriers to the uptake in technology by farmers and many of these are interconnected. Farmers’ reluctance to share data is slowing the adoption of technology that could help transform New Zealand’s food production systems to be more sustainable, resilient and consumer-focused, a study by researchers from AgResearch has found.
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Research shows there are numerous barriers to the uptake in technology by farmers and many of these are interconnected.

Farmers’ reluctance to share data is slowing the adoption of technology that could help transform New Zealand’s food production systems to be more sustainable, resilient and consumer-focused, a study by researchers from AgResearch has found.

The study was part of the New Zealand Bioeconomy in the Digital Age (NZBIDA) project, which aims to test if digital technologies can provide new solutions to many of the issues that farmers face today.

The research team reviewed academic literature and identified at least 22 different barriers to the uptake of technology that NZBIDA project lead Mark Shepherd says includes data collection, new analytics, models, robotics, Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning.

“Research shows there are a whole range of barriers,” Shepherd says.

“For example, the technology has to fit in with the farming system and I think there has to be a demonstrated value from using it. I think at the moment there’re not that many proven value propositions.  

“There need to be more examples of where the tech has made a difference so that people have got the confidence and can see how it can work for them.”

He says many of the barriers are interconnected and overcoming them won’t be straightforward.  

“You might think ‘if we crack this barrier, that’s the solution’, but there might be underlying issues. First of all, you need to understand the interconnectivity and then the opportunities that we’ve got,” he says.

One surprise finding is a feeling among some farmers that the adoption of hi-tech farming affects their sense of identity.

“There is a sense of potential loss of connectivity with the land or just loss of identity as a farmer and the fear of being at the mercy of a big technology provider where you don’t have much say other than using their technologies,” he says.

Other barriers are technical but one of the biggest is reluctance among farmers to share their data.  

“The real value of tech is the ability to collect data, the ability to combine different types of data and get more out of combining those data sets but the concern is how will this data be used? ‘If I share it, will I lose control of it, could it be used against me?’,” he says.

“Of all of the barriers, I think that’s the key one and it’s one of the most difficult ones to resolve. Somebody made the point to me that actually it’s not a technology problem, it’s a people problem. We can share data now, we’ve got systems, but it’s really how do we make sure that it’s used fairly and people will get recognition that they’re sharing data and get the benefit from it.”

He believes progress is being made on data sharing though pointing to the Trust Alliance New Zealand (TANZ), a primary industry consortium working to find ways to safely share data, with a view to preserving and enhancing the competitiveness of NZ primary sector.

TANZ aims to provide a safe space to share data and enable innovation through data interoperability, the organisation says on its website.

NZBIDA is working with DairyNZ to develop “use cases”, effectively case studies, to demonstrate to farmers and others in primary industries the value of new technology. 

“At the moment it’s almost like we’re in a phoney war with technology. Everyone’s saying technology’s got this fantastic potential but there aren’t that many successful examples of wide-scale adoption that we can point to and say ‘we’re on our way’ yet,” he says.

“The work of the team illustrates what a huge undertaking it is going to realise the transformational potential of digital technologies in the New Zealand agricultural sector. 

“It’s as much about people as about the technology: farmers, processors, society (consumers and citizens) and the technology companies. These stakeholders, and in our New Zealand livestock systems, the animals themselves, have different and, at times, competing needs.”

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