By Richard Strange, Head of Engineering at Agricompas
As individuals we all grow in wisdom and capability when we take time to reflect on our actions and find lessons to apply to tomorrow’s challenges. We look at our achievements and the memories that are anchored around them. We use them to guide us in becoming better in both our professional and personal lives. Modern business is very much the same. In the modern world, when a business moves, the byproduct of their actions is data.
Agricultural Data Gap
Whether it is a financial officer’s log of transactions, the record of work hours from an employee’s timesheet, or the number of clicks a website receives each day. It is rare to find a part of a business that isn’t measured or collected, either directly or by proxy through other measures. Yet in agriculture, little information is available around many crucial farming practices that often mean the difference between a bumper crop or financial devastation for families and communities.
It is not enough to say that you have an employee, or a website, or an invoice. The crucial questions are if the employee is doing their work, if the website is drawing attention, if the invoice is correct. Yet farmers are not able to answer critical questions about their own farms. They have sown their seeds, yet cannot say how many are germinating. They apply fertiliser, yet cannot tell if it is cost-effective. By leaving agriculture behind in this wave of data-driven business, the world is abandoning millions of farmers in data poverty, and powerless to compete against their wealthier first-world counterparts.
EcoProMIS Collects Quality Data
In leading the EcoProMIS project, the aim of Agricompas is to make a difference by empowering farmers with the knowledge they need, from sensor to survey to satellite to weather to drone data. But with each additional source of data, the difficulty of pulling them together increases exponentially. I’m the Head of Engineering at Agricompas, and I’m responsible for all the data EcoProMIS gathers. My job is to work out how we pull all this information together, understand it and then provide the information to those that need it.
There are two approaches to tackling a challenge like ours. Firstly, you can manually handle the data, with a team of analysts pushing round files via email, shared folders and collaborative spreadsheets. This does come with the advantage of immediate productivity and visibility. But there’s little certainty over the quality and completeness of data, and no way to be sure what information is where. The second option is to invest time and effort into a fully-fledged platform for data. It must allow the scientists we work with and the farmers that we support to put in and take out the information they need effortlessly.
Advanced Data Platform Prevents Errors
Only recently, the failure of the first, manual approach was highlighted by the loss of the records of 16,000 positive COVID-19 cases by the UK government. Was it a catastrophic server failure? the act of a malicious hacker? The truth was far more mundane. An analyst had opened the spreadsheet holding the list of COVID-19 cases in an old version of Excel, slicing 16,000 rows of data off without ever realising their mistake. Suppose this approach cannot work reliably in the hands of a team as well-staffed as the Public Health England team. How can we trust our own information in a similar system? We owe our growers and our own team better than that.
Over the last six months, the EcoProMIS team has been carefully creating a central platform that can look after farmer data responsibly and safely. A system of databases, redundant servers and security measures means that data doesn’t get forgotten, doesn’t get destroyed and doesn’t get leaked. Over the coming months, we are combining our suite of analytics, models and AI with new apps.
These apps will allow farmers to provide and see their data about their farms and help them make the right agricultural decisions. We already have the first app in early tests, with a knowledge presentation app in the works for release by the new year.
As we evolve our platform and grower apps through close feedback with early users, we will be able to put more power back into the hands of growers, irrespective of their literacy or agricultural experience.
Agricompas and the EcoProMIS project exist to level the playing field and make agriculture fairer for farmers in the most challenging economic, environmental and social settings. I am incredibly proud of what our technical team has achieved to make that happen.