Cloud computing, internet of things, robotics, analytics, and artificial intelligence are technology enablers that serve as the cornerstone for smart farms or intelligent farms. Food security is a global concern and the world's agricultural resources are finite. Smart farming answers the call to maximize yields from farms by leveraging a host of relatively cutting-edge technologies to capture and organize field data, analyze and suggest actions within defined parameters, and finally implement interventions to correct and manage farm performance.
Precision agriculture, for instance, is a popularly discussed component of smart farming but use cases mainly involve well-funded farm estates with large tracts of land that are usually monocropped or planted to the same plant year after year. The technologies used in such instances are sexy (think drones, sensors, and a gazillion sets of data) but are likely to be inappropriate in a reality where farmers till less than a hectare, barely have enough capital to plant for the next season, and still uses a traditional production system that is reliant on the farmer's hands. It is therefore no surprise that the average farmer fails to recognize the benefits of these technologies that are often seen as exclusive to large players in the industry.
Taking the sexy gadgetry out of the technology, smart farms, at a minimum, utilize technologies that help the farmer manage the farm as a business or enterprise. An ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning software -- for many farms, spreadsheets run the business if at all), for example, can track inventory, production and sales forecasts, finances, and more importantly, people. Mobile applications not only link farmers to the market, i.e. direct consumers, but can link farmers to other farmers who can then work together to help create demand or stabilize supply. Increasingly, farms use social media not only to market produce but encourage people to visit their farms and partake in agri-activities. There's a host of technologies out there that can help ease farmers' challenges in one way or another; adoption, however, gets in the way.
There is the initial cost to set up what can be a common or shared software for an association or cooperative thus leveraging the same one time investment. As soon as the technology is set up, there's the learning and skills retooling that enables farmers to use the technology the right way. Finally, there's that change management component that weaves the technology into the process so people use these tools in the long run. Technology adoption is a journey and the journey starts by letting farmers know what technologies are available and understanding how these can be used to improve the farm.
With the right technology in place, the farmer can perhaps take a step back from the nitty gritty and focus on managing the farm as a business or enterprise --- managing its finances and focusing on markets and consumers. At the end of the day, it's not a matter of growing the biggest papaya or leafiest lettuce that a farm can produce, it is making sure the farm's goods and services reach buyers and consumers and make the farm a viable one.
Im dedicating this space for a free exchange of ideas and suggestions on how we can increase IT adoption among Filipino farmers.
Henry James Sison is a technologist by profession but his passion is in agriculture. He is on a quest to make these technologies accessible to the Filipino farmer.