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Farmer interviews – challenges of new technologies

Dr Alice Mauchline finds out about the challenges of using precision and digital technologies, directly from the farmers.
Faced any challenges using this technology? And if so, what went wrong? I guess lots of things have gone wrong over the years, but you iron these out, and technology has improved, as it does. The first challenge is finding a system that suits you, that suits what you want to do, and then is also able to, that you’re able to do other things with it to justify the high cost, which then spreads the cost over lots of different techniques, if you like. Getting deeper into the topic of precision farming. Where to start? Do you have own data, do you use yield maps, do you use soil maps, do you use satellite informations?
What do you use, and what is the right information that fits best to your actual system? This took me at least two years to analyse the data I had, or I could use. And this was a big challenge, because when you start and you find out you have the wrong base, you have to restart after a few years again. You have to be very careful about mixing manufacturers because then there’s always a complaint that oh, well it wasn’t my fault, it’s the tractor doing it. It’s not the contract. You know, that the tractor manufacturer will blame the steering system.
Then it’s very acute, so with my sprayer, in the end I got so upset, I had to park the sprayer outside my main dealer. And I said I wasn’t going to take it away until he sorted it out. It was just a delay switch. So a cheap fix, but it did take me six months to get to that point. A very practical problem is GPS signal. So let’s just say if GPS signal goes, then some of the technology is useless. Cloud cover, if you’re using satellite data. If it’s really cloudy then you’re not going to get the data, so you can’t do your variable rate spreading. So practical issues like that.
Because it didn’t work efficiently and smoothly, you automatically have bad feelings over it, and our combine driver, he didn’t particularly want to use it because of that, which was a shame. So all that time and effort that went into making sure it would work, sadly, I don’t particularly think he uses it because of it. The biggest challenge, I believe, for the future of digital - digitalization, not only through precision farming, but digitising itself in agriculture, is complexity. And a bigger question mark is how we as IT people can really help the farmers to manage this complexity, not going in opposite to make it even more complex.
Sometimes this happens, because the people from IT, they believe that they are helping, but from the other hand, actually they are making the processes even more complex. Are there any examples where something that went wrong could have been avoided had you known or planned, or is it relatively straightforward, the technology that you’ve been using, and relatively reliable so far? Yeah, I mean like an example of something that could be avoided if I’d have thought about it more. We bought a new baler, and the terminal didn’t speak to the tractor.
If I’d thought about it a bit more logically, then I could have realised that, and then wouldn’t have had the stress to try to sort it out when I wanted to go baling, and things like that. So just for monitoring the baler and things. But I mean, I think it depends on what level you have engaged with agritech, because if you’re only on a basic level of agritech, then you haven’t got so much of a concern. But let’s just say friends of mine have a Yara N-Sensor, which if you don’t know, is basically, it is reading the crop biomass as you’re going along.
And they’ve had a situation where they’ve basically gone to use it, but, and the Yara system’s fine, nothing wrong with that, but it’s then the terminal and making sure everything works together. And they, not because of the Yara system, the Yara system’s fine, but because of they themselves don’t know how to make it all work without a professional to come and do it all, to explain it all to them. So the training question again. They end up just going off and not using it, because by the time you hitched it on, got it all working, made sense of it all,
it’s 2:00 in the afternoon, and you need to get on. So it’s just a practical point there, really, I suppose. So in both instances where you had challenges it was about training and being better prepared. So in both cases, if there’s more information available when the technologies are taken on board, then hopefully both of those challenges might be overcome in the future. Well, ultimately you hit the nail on the head when you said agritech is about improving farm efficiency effectiveness, both improving and helping farmers to farm better.
But then the flip side of that is if the farmer isn’t educated enough, and I don’t mean educated in the sense of the farmer being well-educated, I mean educated about the technology, and understanding the technology, then the technology becomes useless, and that effectiveness and efficiency to be gained from it is nil because they don’t know how to effectively use it. So it’s a chicken and egg.

In this video, Dr Alice Mauchline asks the farmers about the challenges they’ve experienced when using precision and digital technology. Issues such as compatibility between manufacturers, knowing what data you need in the first place, which technology suits your farm the best, GPS signal availability and the complexity of the machines are all mentioned. How might they have done things differently in hindsight? Listen for some suggestions.

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