Going Mobile

Posted in: Technology     

Cell phones and tablets are changing the way farmers and agriculture manufacturers do business.

0314 Going Mobile

Distance is dead. Decision-making, supported by mobile technology, links our fast-paced lives through a device to a communication hub surrounded by a cloud of data and information. Direct face-to-face communication will never be gone, but it’s also no longer a limiting factor in doing business — or running a leading-edge farm. We are using our cell phones and tablets to link up to others through social media sites, to multi-task and to manage our lives. For savvy farm managers, this can allow direct contact with experts anywhere and anytime, which greatly leverages everyone’s limited time. The pull-back of the federal and provincial governments from extension and technology transfer means producers are now on their own — but it doesn’t mean they have to go it alone. Mobile technology brings help timely advice, directly to them. As a result, they can utilize external (and remote) experts to validate their knowledge base and reduce their risks as they tackle future challenges. 

Producers today are using mobile devices and software for diagnostics, marketing, data tracking and sharing knowledge. The modern agriculture information era we have entered has moved towards a much more interactive query model focused on ‘why’ and ‘how’. We need quality information to make better decisions, so the traditional face-to-face farm approach has adopted online sharing models, fueled by email and texting to ensure better information, immediately transferred. 

North American farmers are also using mobile technology to aggregate data for risk management purposes. For example in the U.S., mapping of special crops (using Google) allows crop applicators to plan ahead to avoid spray drift. Saskatchewan is looking at adapting this model for the honey industry. In northern B.C., grain farmers are looking at an application for a shared regional weather station that would allow them to monitor local climate change. 

Along the supply chain, food processors and manufacturers are installing tablets into their shops as a way of distributing information and reporting results right at the work station. Information and technology is critical for managing perishable expensive ingredients. Daily decisions impact shelf life and food safety. Food manufacturers are also using cameras and video analytics to help identify potential risk events before they occur. Software is being ‘trained’ to scan for normal activity and alert managers of activity exceptions. 

Farmers can learn new ways from others in the supply chain. Larger manufacturers are adopting more automation and digital equipment to support decision-making across the organisation. Tablets are replacing paper, TV screens are replacing white boards and managers are creating ‘dashboards’ or quick lists of daily and hourly indicators of actual activity. And to support these changes, mobile equipment and digital information allows for a move away from centralized communication without losing effectiveness for a quality decision. These mobility (soft tech) examples help to supplement the common ‘hard’ technology equipment at the farm and food plant. 

In the near term, we will see more distributed data and sharing of information both at a regional and farm collaboration. Mobile devices link us to key influencers and thought leaders, help us communicate directly with colleagues and researchers, and enable us to rapidly collect and share data with external consultants and other farmers. This information era is pushing the bounds of who creates the information, who uses it and who benefits from it. 

Digital models will continue to evolve as fast as our imagination allows. 

Hang on for the ride. 

About the Author
Darrell Toma

Darrell Toma is an economist and management expert who specializes in market research, strategic business planning and project analysis for associations, government, public and private clients. He can be reached at dtoma@tomaandbouma.com.

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