Farming innovation and good data practices

The Waikato region of New Zealand, in the middle of winter, is frequently cold, wet, and foggy. No more so in 2014 than in some other years, but this year I had just returned from a visit to the northern hemisphere summer and days warmer than 30°C. What better way to celebrate a return to cooler climes than to venture down to the New Zealand National Agricultural Fieldays® at Mystery Creek®!

Fieldays® has been running since 1970, and I’ve been a regular attender since I first rode out on the back of my best mate’s father’s Ute in the early 1980s. As far as I can recall, the only one I’ve missed in the last 20 years was in 2012 when I visited the Royal Highland Agricultural Show in Edinburgh instead. A summer show; it was an unseasonably cold, wet and muddy event that made me feel right at home.

Of course Fieldays is an event of massive scale, with between 115,000 and 130,000 attending each year. It is the event of choice for a substantial proportion of New Zealand’s farming and rural community. A lot of commerce goes on at Fieldays, but one of the traditions of the event is that farmers go to learn, compare, and gather information – many only later making the final purchase.

Andweeder (Plant Detection Systems Ltd, with Andy Lysaght, Innovations entry at New Zealand Agricultural Fieldays, Mystery Creek, Hamilton, New Zealand, Tuesday 10 June 2014.  Photo: Stephen Barker/Barker Photography

Andweeder (Plant Detection Systems Ltd, with Andy Lysaght, Innovations entry at New Zealand Agricultural Fieldays, Mystery Creek, Hamilton, New Zealand, Tuesday 10 June 2014. Photo: Stephen Barker/Barker Photography

That learning and information element is strongly reflected in Fieldays culture, especially the Innovation Awards. For the last few years I’ve had the privilege of joining the Innovation Awards judging team. With 79 entries this year across several categories, we had a massive day getting around and speaking to each entrant, learning the finer points of their invention or new product, and getting to grips with how it will be brought to market. We put a lot of store on both the inventiveness and potential impact on agriculture, which can generate some very robust discussions in judging our team.

In the early days of judging, we often had a special “Software” or IT award. In recent times this has been unnecessary, as (with the exception of fantastic inventions such as Kindling Cracker, the Gudgeon Pro five-in-one, or theAndweeder pictured) so many innovations now include software – everything from embedded microprocessors controlling hardware to systems which collect data in the cloud.

I naturally find both ends of the spectrum fascinating, but use of cloud-based data collection and advanced analytics is particularly close to my heart. It’s something that the Rezare Systems team are very involved in for a number of our corporate customers. So much is increasingly possible by using machine learning and predictive analytics for forecasting. More on those topics another day.

My colleague Doug Lineham and I also spent a good bit of our time at Fieldays catching up with people who collect, store, or interchange farmer data. That’s a good number of organisations: from your stock and station agent, dairy company and NAIT, to cloud services like Xero, FarmIQ, AgHub, and Ravensdown SmartMaps.

We were updating these organisations on the launch of the Farm Data Code of Practice. The Code of Practice is intended to give farmers an assurance of the good data practices employed by these organisations – encouraging transparent discussions between farmers and organisations about the collection and use of data, as well as sensible approaches to securely storing and interchanging data. The code was launched just before Fieldays by Dr Tim Mackle, CEO of DairyNZ, and Bruce Wills, President of Federated Farmers, and is supported by a number of other organisations (see www.farmdatacode.org.nz for details). I’m pleased to say we had a great supportive response from many organisations, and a waiting list of those who want to be accredited.

The Farm Data Code of Practice is complemented by projects to support development of standards for interchanging agricultural data. These are not designed to fit all data into straight-jackets, but to create a common vocabulary that makes it easy for the software teams in companies to interchange relevant data. It’s all part of a project we’ve been working on for a couple of years now, funded by dairy farmers through DairyNZ, and by the Ministry for Primary Industries through the Primary Growth Partnership, with contributions from FarmIQ, and soon, the Red Meat Profit Partnership.

If you’d like to learn more about the data standards, or the code of practice, I encourage you to visit the websites: www.farmdatastandards.org.nz andwww.farmdatacode.org.nz. Alternatively, provide some feedback here, drop me a note or join the Farm Data Code of Practice group on LinkedIn.

* Images used with permission of the New Zealand Agricultural Fieldays Society.
* Trademarks are properties of their respective owners.

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