We discuss the challenges farmers face when adopting new technology and offer a framework for getting started with digital farming. The CATS framework suggests farmers Check their options, Assess their farm, Try a small implementation, and Stay informed. We emphasize the importance of user experience design and collecting feedback from farmers to develop technology that is easy to use and effective.
New technology can be daunting.
I sometimes wonder if tech companies are expecting farmers to drop everything and just play with their technology. Or maybe get a PhD to operate their systems?
As consumers, we are spoilt for choice and often take it for granted how easy to use our various apps are. Be it social networking, productivity tools, lists, calendars, and so on. One couldn’t be faulted for believing we are the centre of our universe.
Cut to farming, and it’s an entirely different story. The first time I actively started looking at agriculture software, I was struck by how outdated the user experience and design were. The workflows were confusing, and you really needed someone who understood the tech to explain it to you, so you could take the courage to boldly go where no person (or so you thought) has gone before.
I can’t blame farmers for not even trying. They have a business to run and a million other things to worry about.
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Starting small vs. going big
Whether you are a small, medium, or large farm the challenge with new tech adoption is usually the same – where to begin?
Everyone might prefer their own way of doing things, and this is fine as long as it gets you started.
Personally, I like thinking in frameworks. So I’ve put down a framework for any farm size to get started with tech in general and precision farming in particular. I hope you find the below framework helpful in navigating this many-headed and ever-evolving being, called precision farming.
Our furry farm friends, and now a helpful shorthand.
The CATS framework stands for Check – Assess – Try – Stay.
I will explain each below.
I will explain each below.
You may have heard of background checks, so I am going to leverage that a bit here. To get started with precision farming, take some time each week, maybe 30 mins to start with, to check your options.
Research the different precision farming options available to you. This includes looking into different software and hardware options, as well as the features and capabilities of each. While I know you might be partial to hardware (I mean come on! The hum of the engine is way more satisfying than the hum of a computer. I get you), but give the scrawny little nerd, software, a chance. We will surprise you in the long run.
You can do research by
- talking to other farmers who have already adopted precision farming,
- reading about the companies and reading reviews online,
- attending free webinars online to educate yourself but also to get to know the company and its people, and
- attending farming conferences and events.
A big outcome of this phase is – Getting to know them (the different technologies out there).
Assess your farm. Once you have a good understanding of the different precision farming options available, the next step is to assess your own farm.
This includes looking at factors such as
- your current farming practices,
- the size and layout of your farm,
- and your crop types.
This will help you to identify which precision farming options are most suitable for your farm.
Phase outcome – getting to know yourself (and thinking through what adopting would mean at your farm)
This is a big one. And the most critical in determining whether or not you adopt technology on the farm; and if yes, how to do it.
Each farm is unique, while the software is pretty standardised. Or so you may think. Modern software, and esp. ones built with human-centered design, are surprisingly quick to get started with and easy to use. Pick a software that works best for your farm, while also giving you the benefit of combined learnings across other farms. After, isn’t building a community the most human thing to do?
It’s a good idea for you to start small when adopting precision farming. This might include implementing a single precision farming tool such as a farm management software, a weather station, or a crop sensor. This will help you to become familiar with the technology and understand how it can benefit your farm.
(Coming soon: more ideas on precision farming technologies for fruit and tree crop farmers.)
Get training and support
At Farmable, we often say farming is hard; technology shouldn’t be. And we follow this through by building software that is so intuitive that you don’t really need us to get started; you can download and do it yourself – in your own time, in your own way.
However, we also understand that adopting precision farming can be a daunting task for farmers, especially if they are not familiar with technology. To ease the transition, companies often offer training and support from the software providers, such as ourselves. This can be done through on-site training, webinars, or video tutorials. Check out our video library for tons of helpful videos on how to use farm management software. If you find something is missing, or you just have an idea you’d like to share with us, feel free to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But back to the framework.
Monitor and evaluate
Once you have implemented precision farming on your farm, it’s important to monitor and evaluate the results. This can be done by tracking changes in crop yields, input costs, and environmental impact. This will help you to understand the benefits of precision farming and make adjustments as needed.
When I say stay, it really means two things –
- stick with the technology for a couple of seasons to really see the effects, and
- stay informed
Stick with it
Over the years we have seen that adopting technology, like anything new, has a bit of a learning curve. Given the slow nature of agriculture, that learning curve is spread over multiple seasons. Now as a farmer this can be frustrating, because we are so used to getting instant results from technology. It’s our fault really. As an industry, we like to move fast and have built this craze around speed.
However, when technology meets agriculture, there is a beautiful partnership at play here. One where we learn from each other. And over the years we’ve learned the biggest skill from farming – patience.
It typically takes about two seasons for you to see the value that something like a farm management software can add to your farm. So bare with it, and just stick with it for a bit. Use it regularly, and keep coming back to it even during off-season to update it with information you believe is important enough on your farm to be tracked. In the long run, you will be grateful to yourself that you did.
Precision farming is an ever-evolving field, and you should continuously update and upgrade your software and hardware to take advantage of new technologies and features.
I agree that it’s a process that takes time and effort, but it can help you to improve your productivity and profitability.
So what do you think? Ready to take the framework for a spin?