Over the past 18 months I’ve had the opportunity to visit dozens of farms across the globe. It’s been remarkable to see the similarities among varying operations worldwide.
It comes as no surprise that growers should share comparable pain points, despite diversity of factors like crop, climate and farm system. Nevertheless, I take note when I see an issue on a farm in Watsonville, California surface at a farm in Dubai, UAE. Cultivators face many of the same challenges around food safety, getting the best they can out of their employees, and managing their data from the many disconnected systems on their farms.
On some farms that I’ve visited, there have been as many as 10 people working solely on data input. That means that on each of those farms there are 10 people focused on centralizing data from various systems, recording that data and reporting it. That means there are 10 less people focused on cultivating the best possible crops for customers, and 10 less people devoted to utilizing that data to streamline operations and tighten production. Farms, especially large ones, need a place to monitor all of their operational data in conjunction so that leadership has a complete picture of what’s happening on the ground.
As more countries focus on food security and reducing their imports, this problem will only continue grow. Let me paint you a picture: the demand of experienced growers will far outpace the current supply of experienced growers — and other ag professionals — available. What happens next is a breakdown in the supply chain, a sharp rise in failed businesses, and a hungry general population.
But there is good news. A decade ago, the ag tech toolbox available to growers was relatively small and ineffectual. Today, there are more adaptable and scalable solutions for helping you run your farm than ever before. Software and hardware can help farmers focus on doing what they do best — cultivate — instead of wasting their time and energy on routine, mundane operational tasks. Although automation can boost productivity, AgTech shouldn’t replace growers and the ag workforce, it should liberate it.
The way we grow is changing and so are the tools we need to be successful. Here are a few recommendations from some of the farms that I’ve seen are doing it right.
- Understand where you sit on the technology curve.
Every farm is different; as a result, upgrading your farm looks different for everyone. Remember that technology is a tool, its biggest value is that it can move the productivity of your operations forward. First, identify what this means for your farm. “Upgrading” can mean many things.
High tech in Sri Lanka looks very different from high tech in the Netherlands, and this is true for a lot of reasons. Labor, price points and energy costs vary by region, as do profit margins. Your balance of resources won’t look exactly the same as every other farmer in your industry. As a result, the incentives are different by market. And there’s a tradeoff between what you spend and what you reap.
For the most part, indoor farming is more expensive than outdoor or hybrid operations. Costs along the lines of LED lighting, temperature control and airborne pathogen detection all take money out of your pocket. However, those all allow you better control over crop health, and consequently better control over the quality and consistency of your product.
The key is to find technology that fits your farm’s needs, and implement it in a way that is beneficial to your entire operation.
2. Don’t try to upgrade your entire farm at once.
Implementing a new system takes a lot of time and effort. You need to ensure that everyone is on the same page, moving in the same direction. Too much change at once can slow down your operations and have a significant impact on your business. Don’t waste the resources you invest into new technology.
Imagine you adopt a new ERP system for tracking inventory and billing vendors the very same week that you reconfigure the layout of your greenhouses. If your team is confused about what plants are where and in what part of their growth cycle, you can’t have accurate inventory records in your ERP system. If you use inaccurate data to generate reports then you’re making production decisions based on guesswork. Worse than being ineffectual, that lapse in coordination is enough to harm your business.
So, how do you make sure you make sure you allocate the time, money and labor necessary for upgrading your farm? Schedule time for your team to receive proper training on the changes you choose to make. Pick someone to manage the on-boarding and transition. If there are multiple parts to your farm’s upgrade, stagger their implementation so each tool can be properly put into practice.
3. Focus on a few key areas and create a road map.
If you have a road map, you’ll get exactly where you want to go. There are many buckets in today’s agricultural tech toolbox, what you have to do is prioritize tools that are the most valuable to your operations.
Think about productivity, think about forecasting, think about irrigation, think about payroll. Where are your weaknesses? What segments of your supply chain require the most risk management? The more you minimize risk, the wider your profit margin becomes.
The best solution for your aquaculture greenhouse could be to implement a Cultivation Management Platform to automate task management and execute labor forecasting across your facility. Then installing new water pathogen sensors that feed their data into your CMP so that a) your team’s workflow is not disrupted by new hardware since it fits into the software they’re already used to.
Or, maybe the best option for your cannabis farm is to update your LED lighting, and then install airborne pathogen detectors. Once you’ve updated your production, you can then implement new accounting software for sales forecasting, according to the yield you now have with an updated climate system.
Don’t let technology make your life more complicated, make it work for you.
How to Get Started
If you are considering updating and optimizing your operations and production, we recommend starting with software. It’s the less invasive to you operations than hardware and results in the fastest return on your investment.
Enterprise Resource Planning
An ERP is a horizontal software system used by businesses to help run operations. They are designed to be utilized by any resource-heavy business, e.g., agriculture, manufacturing, factories.
What to run on ERP: accounting, order management, supply chain management, warehouse and fulfillment, procurement
Leaders in the space: Netsuite, Oracle, Sage, SAP, Microsoft Dynamics (Nav)
Cultivation Management Planning
A CMP is a vertical software application designed for the agriculture space. CMPs are designed to run plants, people, process, and compliance.
What to run on CMP: crop scheduling, labor forecasting, compliance logging and reporting, task management
Leaders in the space: Artemis, Conservis, Agriware, Picas
Seed-to-Sale are ERP systems designed for the cannabis industry. Often states in the U.S. will require the use of a seed-to-sale system.
What to run on Seed-to-Sale: RFID/lot tracking, inventory, goods sold, billing, patient and customer data
Leaders in the space: METRC, BioTrackTHC, Ample Organics
Artemis has released a Software Buyer’s Guide to help growers determine whether or not they’re ready to implement new technology on their farm, where to begin their search and how to evaluate providers. You can read and download it here.