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Fertile ground for enhancing farming software

Fertile ground for enhancing farming software

Farmers are fairly enthusiastic about using the latest digital technologies to run their businesses, but there is still room for improvement in the agricultural software area, preliminary Lincoln University research suggests.

Lincoln student Jamie Evans recently undertook an exploratory study that involved surveying some of Canterbury’s farmers about the types of technologies they used and how well they thought they were being served by the programmes.

“With this study, we wanted to identify any issues farmers might have with their software, but the long-term goal is to carry out further research that will help us find solutions and ultimately improve these digital technologies,” says IT lecturer Shirley Gibbs, one of the project supervisors.

Some common themes to emerge from the study included inadequate integration between different agricultural software applications, a lack of desired features, time issues in terms of learning and training others to use the technologies, and problems with communication and IT support.

The project was a 10-week scholarship funded by the Canterbury Branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand (RSNZ) and Jamie interviewed 10 farmers at a variety of farms in the region, including dairy, sheep, crop and arable. The respondents ranged in age from 33 to 64 and used a diverse array of software applications.

“The only specification from the RSNZ was that our project be relevant to Canterbury, and with the increasing range of digital tools available to farmers, we thought this was an important study,” Gibbs says.

“Although the study was limited in sample size, it identified significant issues about the use of digital technologies on farms.”

Gibbs says farmers can use advanced agricultural software to access data anywhere on the farm and there are a wide range of tools available.

“The majority of farming software is online and cloud-based, and many also have a phone app paired with software that is designed to be accessed from anywhere.

“Tools include weather forecasting, planning for optimum seed planting, managing data and recording moisture levels.”

All survey respondents said they used some forms of software to run their businesses and were mainly positive about the prospect of using the technologies to achieve higher yields.

However, several of the farmers expressed frustration at the number of different programmes they needed to use to carry out various tasks.

“They suggested that some agricultural programmes could be integrated, to help streamline the day-to-day business of running a farm,” Gibbs says.

Several respondents said the software they used lacked necessary functionality to some degree and in many cases, they were using two types of tool where they believed only one should be necessary.

Some farmers also expressed a lack of trust in the software, due to negative experiences with the tools or hearing about problems others had encountered.

Time emerged as a complex issue, with some saying they found it difficult to find the time to learn how to use new tools or teach others how to use them.

However, others said the tools saved them decision-making time in the long run because they were able to collect data more efficiently.

“Time was used as a reason to either use or not use the technology,” Gibbs says.

Several respondents also pointed out that it was sometimes difficult to get adequate IT training, which meant they felt they lacked the skill to use the tools as effectively as they would like.

“A particular concern involved communication and support, as some farmers said software providers were not always responsive to their needs.”

Gibbs says that future research topics could include the quality of relationships between farmers and software developers, the types of software integration that might work for different types of farming and exploring the effectiveness of accessible communication to farmers about software training.


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