Saturday, March 2, 2024

Agri data alignment overdue, says Fed

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Data cogs across sector not meshing.
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Lack of integration between the many different agri data platforms continues to frustrate most farmers and means much of digital technology’s potential value for them remains untapped.

Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard outlined his frustration with digital tech’s shortcomings during a webinar on the topic sponsored by Map of Ag-owned company Pure Farming.

“The amount of duplication we still have to do – I have eight agencies I have to tell how many cows I have, with potentially two more on the way. Often they are speaking different languages both in the computer code sense, but also the terminology used, like a ‘yearling’  versus a ‘12-month old cow’,” he said.

Hoggard said the doubling-up on data entry is a bugbear every farmer would prefer to avoid, and he suspects competitive protectiveness may be driving the lack of interoperability between data platforms.

“Everyone wants to own the dashboard but they do not want to share with someone else’s dashboard. It is extremely frustrating when you look at the number of companies involved that are co-operatives, owned by farmers.”

There is also concern among farmers about data security and who is accessing it, and this comes despite New Zealand being one of the first countries in the world to develop a data code of practice aimed specifically at protecting farmers’ business data. 

He said NZ’s farm data code of practice may have been a bit ahead of its time when first developed almost a decade ago, and could be due a reset.

Hoggard cited the recent requirement for nitrogen application reporting, as per government limits of 190kgN per hectare per year, as a likely confidence issue.

“Farmers ask ‘Is this going to be just a tick, or is government going to play around with this data and come up with new rules and new regulations?’, so there is a concern among farmers and a lack of trust.”

Fertiliser is one area, given its high price, where greater platform integration would directly benefit farmers, he said.

“If I was able to have TrackMap for placement, talking to LIC’s Space [a grass measuring platform] and sharing production gains, and potentially  joined with real-time weather data, I could see that this investment in fertiliser is making money.” 

Such integration would provide data on how much yield in grass he is getting on specific parts of the farm, rather than relying on standard rule of thumb measurements. 

Map of Ag’s chief commercial officer Julian Gairdner said the technical ability of different platforms to share data is there and often it is a cultural shift in attitudes towards sharing data that needs to happen in companies.

“Farmers are also more willing to share data if they can see demonstrable proof of how it can be used to make better decisions on farm,” said Gairdner. 

He said often farmers are required to supply their data, but are given little in return for the effort.

He cited a platform developed by Map of Ag in the United Kingdom where a food retailer wanted to measure emissions from its farmer suppliers. They hooked up the UK equivalent of NAIT’s database to the processor kill data, and the forage production data of farms.

“That allowed us to create a database for each farm providing the farmers with a number of insights, particularly around emissions intensity.

“What has been interesting about this project is that while the supermarket has been the driver for this project, saying they want to measure the emissions, we have been able to provide actionable insights back to the farmer, and this has been welcomed by farmers.”

Gairdner agreed there is much to be gained by getting companies and co-operatives to share data, with a wider shared based encouraging greater innovation and new ideas on what to do with it.

Hoggard said as shareholders in farmer co-operatives, farmers also have the muscle at AGM time to push remits for their co-ops to open up on data sharing, for the benefit of those shareholding farmers.

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