Mobile technologies will change the face of farming

The need for better mobility in on-farm technologies is not new. When I started working with livestock recording and farm management tools in the early 1990s, some of the sheep breeders showed me their Toshiba and Compaq “portable” computers which they lugged out to woolsheds for recording. This stunning advance allowed them to look up animal records directly on the computer, rather than searching through hundreds of pages of line-printed animal reports.

Those early adopters were highly motivated. They had to be – the technology was clunky, storage and battery life were often poor, applications were complex to use and the keyboard still ruled. You needed to understand computers. Fortunately the world has moved on.

In contrast, the smartphone brings the power of a computer into a farmers’ hand – but without the appearance of a computer. This stealthy tool provides simple apps that are readily discoverable, focused on just one or two tasks, and (mostly) easy to use.

The adoption figures show the impact of this approach:

  • 65% of New Zealanders have a smartphone;
  • 42% of New Zealand households have a tablet (these are more often shared devices);
  • More than half of people aged 55 and older have a smartphone

Recent surveys I have seen of both dairy and sheep/beef farmers show similar adoption rates, perhaps even slightly higher.

We need to see mobile tools adopted in farming. Why?

  • They are the tool of choice for young people entering the farming industry, with 85% of 18 to 24 year olds using a smartphone (and the number growing every day). This demographic won’t expect to be using paper forms or tapping data into a computer.
  • Smartphones move data collection from an evening drudgery to the point of action. Moved the stock into a paddock? Make a note of the number and pasture cover on your phone and it’s done.
  • Mobile devices bring information, tools, and calculators to the point of decision – whether it is sitting on the deck at lunch, standing in the sale yards, or the back paddock. Farmers in countries as diverse as the US, India and Kenya are sending pictures from their smartphone to an agronomist for advice. We’re building simple, quick decision support applications for our customers that a few years ago would have been much more “complete” (and complex) PC applications.
  • Smartphones are “integrators”. They form the nexus or connection point between internet-based systems and databases, barcodes on packages, and Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connected farm devices like weigh scales, drafters and even pumps and irrigators. Maybe you have no mobile coverage out in the back yards, but your phone can still pick up the data from your weigh scales and deliver it later when you get home.

As you can tell, we’re bullish about mobile at Rezare Systems. We’re recruiting and upskilling our developers to build mobile applications, and we see the blend of server-based applications and data with mobile apps as an effective way of supporting farm decision making from here forwards.