The British Texel Sheep Society (TSS) along with its 2,500 members, is renowned for its major influence on the UK Sheep industry. It engaged Map of Ag’s software development division Rezare Systems to completely rewrite its genetics and performance recording platform.
• Complete rebuild of the society’s genetics and performance recording platform
• Agile project methodology with development work broken into ‘sprint’ cycles
• A move to a digital-first culture in how the society operates
• Improved service to members, upskilled staff and measurable savings in direct costs
• Future-proofed tool positioning the society for growth
• Increased member engagement in the creation of new feature ideas
“Our grand challenge was to gain an understanding of how to redevelop or rewrite our database to fulfil our future needs, while limiting disruption to our member services during transition,” says TSS CEO, John Yates.
To support the society with its objectives, Rezare undertook a detailed analysis and audit of their current system and presented a number of development options. In the end, TSS decided a greenfield build to create a truly robust and future-proofed tool for the society was the best route.
The new solution followed a “decoupled” architecture, allowing the back-end database to be separate from the front-end user interface, meaning upgrades and new developments could be more easily achieved without impacting other parts of the system.
“This was a major project for the society”, Mr Yates adds. “It was the biggest single investment we have made, with the Society celebrating its 50th year in 2024, and vital to enable us to grow our offer and deliver what our members need now and in the future.”
The society was keen to ensure there was a high level of technical competency to ensure the right level of database functionality was created to meet critical business needs. It was also essential there was a collegiate team both on the Rezare and society sides, and flexibility in project management and leadership.
“This was a complex project, combining political, technical and financial considerations, the main delivery of which was carried out over about 18 months,” says Mr Yates. “There were some important things we had to adapt to, once we gained board sign off, such as working in an agile methodology. The society made its own investment in a project manager which, while adding cost, proved essential in gluing all the project deliverables together.
“Other challenges included budget management – which was helped by breaking the project into manageable parts or ‘sprints’ and focusing on the minimal viable product before adding further features.”
The project also created a great opportunity to review current processes and procedures and there was close consultation with staff over the future structure of the team, Mr Yates says. “Good communication and customer focus was essential.”
The results have been impressive, Mr Yates explains. “Our new ‘iTexel’ solution has helped us to deliver an increased speed of change of behaviour among our membership to self-help data input, which has reduced the need for basic admin support, allowing our small team to focus on new service development.
Our overhaul of admin procedures has centred on a digital-first culture and allowed us to consolidate our team while upskilling to provide increased quality of service. We have cut paper and mailing costs, with efficiencies created by integrating the system via APIs with cloud services such as Gocardless and Xero.”
The feedback from the society’s membership has been hugely positive, Mr Yates confirms. “We are generating new ideas for further development off the back of the investment. My life and that of the team and the general membership is so much easier today than it was in the past. I only get compliments not criticisms about iTexel, particularly important in a membership organisation. We have futureproofed the business, improved member access to information and satisfaction, and created a platform for growth.”
“The new solution has helped us to deliver an increased speed of change of behaviour among our membership. We have future-proofed the business, improved access to information and created a platform for growth” John Yates, Chief Executive, British Texel Sheep Society.
On 21st July 2022, Andrew was acknowledged at an industry dinner in Hamilton. The award is for enduring partnerships in the New Zealand agricultural technology industry. It recognises support for the industry, enthusiasm for building globally competitive businesses and willingness to constantly innovate.
“Andrew’s generous, knowledgeable and tireless work in the domain of agridata enablement makes him a worthy recipient of the award,” says AgriTechNZ’s CEO Brendan O’Connell.
“Andrew’s work enables many to do more with their data and he is an exemplar of truly collaborative behaviour.”
Rezare Systems was founded in 2004 and has an enviable track record in developing quality, science-backed digital solutions for agriculture. Data is at the heart of their business, connecting farms and industry and enabling control of their respective data.
Andrew was also recently acknowledged for his Outstanding Contribution by the International Committee for Animal Recording (ICAR) in Montreal. His work with ICAR has enhanced New Zealand’s reputation as a leading agritech ecosystem and global contributor to shared standards and codes of practice.
The Robin Davidson Memorial Award was initiated by a previous incarnation of Agritech New Zealand, established by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. First awarded in 2004 , recipients have included Jim Grennell, Colin Harvey, Geoff Nathan, Philip Locke and Sir William Gallagher.
About the Robin Davidson Memorial Award for Agritech Excellence
Robin Davidson was an early advocate and champion of New Zealand’s agritech sector. She was a New Zealand Trade Commissioner who actively promoted our sector. She highlighted its contribution to the New Zealand economy and its positioning as globally competitive. She spent most of her overseas career in the United States where she actively sought opportunities for New Zealand agritech exporters.
Agritech New Zealand is an association of organisations and individuals that have come together to lead a programme of work, taking a key role in growing our country’s capability to maximise the opportunities enabled by agritech and address any challenges.
Tuesday 1st November 2022 – QEII Centre, London
The National Farm Management Conference is returning this November to tackle the big questions which come with balancing the requirement for food security with environmental needs.
This year’s conference, titled ‘Agriculture’s defining decade: Balancing food and environmental security’, will address the ‘thornier’ issues which come with efficiently producing food while safeguarding the environment.
It’s acknowledged that the war in the Black Sea region has stoked a resurgence in focus on food security issues, which were already creeping back to the forefront due to disruptions caused by Brexit and Covid-19. At the same time, farming is undoubtedly going to play a key role in reaching net zero emissions, as 72% of UK land is farmed, providing vast opportunity to sequester carbon in agricultural soils alongside other ‘environmentally friendly’ activities.
National Farm Management Conference speaker line up
Speakers at the event include:
The line-up of sessions promises to leave no stone unturned when it comes to tackling the difficult questions which arise when debating food and environmental security.
Free tickets for students at National Farm Management Conference
The conference welcomes both members and non-members of IAgrM. For the first time this year, 50 free of charge places are available to students in a bid to help inspire the next generation of farming leaders.
Our theme for 2022 is “Future Proofing your Dairy Business”. Under this theme we have selected a number of key areas of focus which we believe are crucial for any dairy business. These include Feeding, Forage, Finances, Fertility, Feet and your Future Females.
The TotalDairy seminar will deliver global dairy expertise and the latest research to implement on your unit, with farm case study examples.
The first release of tickets includes a full package two-day seminar pass with dinner, bed & breakfast.
TotalDairy is a great opportunity to connect, progress, learn and network amongst leading producers, processors and industry partners.
Book your place at: totaldairy.com/tickets
Introducing some of our initial speakers – more to follow
Dr. Todd Duffield, University of Guelph
Feeding and Fertility: Metabolic health for transition cows
Finances: Decision making with cull cows.
Prof. Terri Ollivett, University of Wisconsin
Future Females: Youngstock respiratory disease, implementation of a “#WeanClean” management programme.
Frank Verhoeven, University of Wageningen
Fertiliser and Feasible Farming systems: KPIs for circular agriculture & practical solutions to sustainability challenges.
Prof. Laura Randall, University of Nottingham
Feet: Round up of UK lameness research including updates on automated lameness detection systems
We are grateful for the support of our two platinum sponsors Boehringer Ingelheim and Lallemand.
Further sponsorship packages are available by contacting email@example.com
A range of dynamics were coming into the play, the panel concluded, which meant farmers were going to be increasingly asked for access to their data. But it was important those farmers could understand why sharing their data was necessary, and what benefit it would bring them.
Pressure from the agrifood chain to meet sustainability targets was one example and Map of Ag’s Head of Sustainability Hugh Martineau explained there was now growing evidence that retailers and processors were not only wanting data to measure “scope 3” emissions of their farmers suppliers for their own purposes, but also wanting to provide those farmers with dashboards and advice to help them improve on-farm performance and a lower carbon footprint.
In the banking sector, Oxbury’s Tim Coates explained there was a need for lenders to understand the sustainability credentials of their loan book, and that his bank was looking at offering preferential or bespoke deals to borrowers who could evidence good sustainability credentials.
The panel, which also included Cambridgeshire farmer Tom Martin and the NFU’s Director of Policy Andrew Clark, acknowledged there was a lot of noise in the sector around data, and carbon trading in particular, and that there was an opportunity for the public and private sector to come together to land on a more coherent set of metrics around which the industry could coalesce.
It was also important there was agreement on the way in which data is shared, Mr Clark added. “We need a code of practice that applies to both public and private providers. It’s our members’ data that’s being collected and it’s a bit of a wild west out there.”
Developing a data strategy for the farm was something Mr Martin was starting to focus on. “We don’t have a strategy but we are developing one. We are trying to get as much value as possible from the data and looking to the future at what we are going to have to baseline that might become increasingly relevant, without wasting money.”
Actionable data had the potential to influence change on the farm, Mr Clark said. “Data will have a role in triggering behaviour. But if you have a wall of data there’s little value unless a farmer can understand where they can change a decision because of what the data’s telling them.”
Data could allow you to experiment, Mr Coates added. “Change one variable and see what the outcome is. That’s data. That’s actionable insight.”
Tying the right data together was important, Mr Martineau explained. “For example, it could provide meaningful insight such as nitrogen use efficiency and help growers identify in-field areas that could be taken out of production.”
Security of data and trust in how and where was being used was also a theme. “There have been historical examples of sharing data where farmers have felt penalised for doing so,” Mr Coates said. “Fundamentally it is the farmer’s data. It’s important data is used in partnership with the farmer.”
In terms of developing a data strategy, Mr Martineau concluded it was important to prioritise the data to collect and make sure that it was meaningful. Looking further ahead he said there needed to be more consistency across the industry regarding key performance indicators, and more support to get farmers on the journey to creating a data strategy for their farm.
Map of Ag’s Pure Farming data integration platform is helping to bring useful data together and allowing farmers to control where and how their data is used. You can find out more at purefarming.com
Regenerative agriculture is the buzzword. And that’s good. The growing enthusiasm for the adoption of production processes on the farm that are much more environment and nature focused is the signal of an important cultural shift in the sector.
The principles of “regenerative farming” are not new. Indeed, it is testament to the work of the late Caroline Drummond at LEAF (Linking Environment & Farming) that so much change has already been accomplished – her loss leaves a big hole but happily an even bigger legacy. One of the challenges has been the need to quantify the impact of on-farm changes in practice and to use relevant measures to accelerate engagement across the sector. This will not only be good for UK agriculture’s brand but also support policy and legislation approaches that balance economic, social and environmental considerations.
This requires a common approach to measurement and collection of data, and its interpretation. And we need to do this in a way that brings farmers along a journey, not to a cliff edge. In other words, like a plant, start small, and grow.
It has been 30 years since the McSharry reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy which started the process of evolving support schemes in agriculture from rewarding outright production to incentivising more environmentally friendly approaches. And with the UK’s departure from the EU, we will see a transformation in agricultural support towards ‘public money for public goods’.
The Sustainable Farming Incentive is one of the first cabs off the rank and focuses on meeting a 25-year Environment Plan, Net Zero and animal health & welfare ambitions. The scheme will pay farmers to produce public goods such as water quality, biodiversity, animal health & welfare, and climate change mitigation, alongside food production.
But there remains a conspicuous gap in policy that incentivises farmers to collect and share data that will help evidence progress in meeting environmental outcomes, support activities such as R&D and importantly, informing consumers of the high production standards and benefits. Why is this when we know good data has the potential to unlock so much benefit?
Perhaps it is the concern over how data will be used, and by whom. Could it be the lack of skill and capability in collection and interpretation of the data? Or is it that this all feels a bit big to chew?
Likely it is all three; but we must start somewhere. Developing a framework for some manageable data collection towards a limited but relevant set of standardised metrics and KPIs – most likely focused around Net Zero – would be a terrific start.
Presently, there is little consistency in approach, and less still engagement in collecting the right data. Not to incentivise this is a missed opportunity, not only for farmers but also processors, retailers, and the financial sector, all of whom are under pressure to meet environmental targets.
To make progress is not necessarily as hard as it seems. The work we have been doing with the agrifood supply chain has demonstrated that even limited amounts (and sources) of data can yield valuable insights. We have been developing dashboards for farmers and the organisations they supply that show how farms compare with benchmark and, importantly, where the best opportunities for improvement lie.
“The irony is that in most cases, lowering the carbon footprint of the farm usually goes hand in hand with improved efficiency…and profits.” Explains Hugh, stating that of itself should be an incentive, particularly in these inflation-charged times.
Technology – our Pure Farming data integration platform for example – plays a vital role in this, allowing data to be sourced, standardised and permissioned (by the farmer) for relevant and multiple uses.
Bringing a manageable set of data about each farm together can, allow not only an assessment of the farm’s current status (baseline), but also a calculation of the theoretical minimum carbon footprint the farm could achieve. With some standardisation in approaches (building on what already exists), this could become one of the most important metrics of all, around which a useful suite of KPIs can be built.
It’s exactly the approach we are taking, and in communicating in these terms, our experience with farmers is that they like it because it is not too onerous, it is easy to understand, and it helps them be more objective about where they should be heading – particularly when it comes to emerging opportunities such as carbon trading.
It’s time to get this moving and data lies at the heart of this. The approach needs consensus and realism. But it also needs incentivising now, before we get too close to that cliff edge.
Data lies at the heart of measuring and managing all aspects of farm efficiency. Not only is this essential to creating profitable businesses throughout the agrifood supply chain, but it is increasingly required by the supply chain to fulfill sustainability obligations.
To achieve those “net zero” objectives, collaboration is key. Most stakeholders in the supply chain want to work with farmers, not against them. We need data to create integrated supply chains where benefits can be shared.
The NFU launched their ‘British farming: A Blueprint for the Future’ report at the NFU Conference in February 2022. It outlined a plan for a ‘resilient, sustainable and productive agricultural sector that is good for shoppers, the environment and for British farmers’.
The report’s focus on climate friendly farming highlighted their ambition to tackle climate change as one of the first global farming organisations to publish a comprehensive and achievable roadmap to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. It stated that ‘by maintaining its progressive approach to the adoption of new technologies, and continuing to be led by science, the government can help to ensure we can take full advantage of these advances and enhance our position as a world leader in climate-friendly farming’.
Although there are some existing incentives to encourage farmers to collect data, more can be done in this space, by means of grants though to initiatives from the private sector to stimulate farmer engagement through effective rewards.
The collection of data needs to be as streamlined as possible and its analysis needs to provide demonstrable actionable insights. Creating standardised metrics, devices or apps which are easy to use and compatible with other equipment will all aid in the uptake of collecting data. Farmers need to have the ability to use the data to help make decisions and see the outcome of these decisions with ease.
Sir Peter Kendall, farmer and former NFU President, says: “In my view we have not got serious enough about data and we need to. In my own farm business where we have expanded beyond our 1,300ha arable operation to develop a substantial poultry business, data is becoming a key tool for effective decision making.
“A mistake in farming is thinking your business is unique and you can’t compare yourself to someone else. You can. If you look at your fuel usage or your staffing requirements, no matter your size you can look at where your competitors sit.”
Trust in who is doing what with data is a central pillar that needs addressing if the data is to flow, Map of Ag Chief Commercial Officer, Julian Gairdner adds. “In our own business we are developing the technology with our Pure Farming platform that puts farmers in control of their data. Our belief is that farmers should be able to manage who can use their data and under what Ts and Cs. We are providing the tech to support a cultural shift in the sector towards making data sharing is easy, trustable and beneficial.”
Map of Ag will be discussing this topic with a panel of industry representatives at Cereals, The Arable Event on 8th June 2022. The session will be held in the New Era Tent at 1.30pm, and is titled, ‘What is the data strategy for your farm? How joining the data journey can bring benefits for your business and the environment.’
Cereals will be held at Duxford, Cambridgeshire on 8th–9th June 2022 bringing together the decision-makers and influencers within the agricultural industry, a perfect platform for you to network and share your ideas.
Farmers are experiencing increasing demand for information relating to their farm businesses which will increasingly require them to supply the same data points to different organisations. The sustainability agenda has accelerated this with supply chain commitments including Net Zero GHG emissions. Customers of farmers require more detail than ever on farm practices and activity, and we need intelligent data systems to inform multiple requirements.
This session will include information on where data can add real value to the business and will include different perspectives including banks, supply chain business and farmer views. It will demonstrate how a focused data strategy can meet multiple needs and reduce administrative requirements for all.
Julian Gairdner, Chief Commercial Officer at Map of Ag, said: “There is a great deal of variability in the way farm data is generated and stored. However, with the right approach, the data that is available can offer significant value to farm business and reduce administrative burden in generating details for customers and other potential users for the data.”
The requirements for farm data are increasing and solutions are needed that can meet multiple requirements. For example, banks are going to be required to report on emissions associated with lending. Likewise, the supply chain has made commitments for GHG reductions and require farm-scale measurement to show progress against emissions targets. An appropriate data strategy can help meet these multiple requirements and generate insights that offer value to the farm business.
Julian will be joined by a panel including, Andrew Clark, NFU, who will discuss the drive towards net zero from a policy standpoint. Tim Coates, Oxbury Bank, will provide an insight to how banking is making use of farm data to support its customers. Hugh Martineau, Head of Sustainability at Map of Ag, will join the panel to cover data capture and integration from a technical perspective.
“The focus needs to be on the data requirements first and not trying to shoehorn a specific tool or model into a particular scenario,” Hugh explains. “This offers the farm business more flexibility and control over time with the use of and value from their data. It means reporting can be more dynamic and make sure farm businesses and supply chain customers have access to the right data to solve any given problem or opportunity.”
Cereals is being held at Duxford, Cambridgeshire on 8th–9th June 2022 bringing together the decision-makers and influencers within the agricultural industry, a perfect platform for you to network and share your ideas.
CH4 remains in the atmosphere for approximately 12 years, a much shorter period than carbon dioxide (CO2). Between 65% and 80% of CO2 released into the air dissolves into the ocean over a period of 20 to 200 years. The rest is removed by slower processes that take thousands of years. These dynamics have led to the descriptions of CH4 as a ‘flow’ gas and CO2 as a ‘stock’ gas.
CH4 is produced as a by-product of enteric fermentation and from the decomposition of manure under anaerobic conditions. The Agri Climate Report in 2021 stated that agriculture was responsible for 10% of the UK’s total GHG emissions but 47% of total methane emissions in 2019.
While the CH4 produced by burning fossil fuels and enteric fermentation is the same molecule chemically, there is an argument that the methane produced by enteric fermentation is not as environmentally harmful being part of the so-called ‘biogenic cycle’ in which plants harness the energy of the sun to absorb CO2 to produce carbohydrates such as cellulose by photosynthesis.
Humans are unable to digest cellulose, but ruminants can, thanks to rumen bacteria which turn it into high quality nutrients. A side effect of this ‘enteric fermentation’ in the rumen is that methane is produced (‘cow burps’).
After about 12 years, the methane is converted back into carbon dioxide through a chemical reaction in the atmosphere known as hydroxyl oxidation. The argument follows that because the carbon is the same carbon that was in the air prior to being consumed by an animal there is no global warming potential.
However, this argument is not likely to reduce the focus on agriculture because despite CH4 only being in the atmosphere for a comparatively short period, while it is there it has a large global warming potential (GWP). The GWP of CH4 is estimated as being 84 times that of CO2 over 20 years (GWP20). Thus, rapidly reducing CH4 emissions from energy, agriculture, and waste can achieve near-term gains for decisive action against global warming and is regarded as the single most effective strategy to keep the 2015 Paris COP21 goal of limiting warming to less than 2 and ideally 1.5˚C.
Direct measurement of CH4 production on farm is currently practically impossible. Several equations based on studies undertaken at research institutions with equipment capable of directly measuring the CH4 output of individual animals have been developed to estimate CH4 production. These equations differ in complexity and, in general, the models with more complex inputs tend to be more accurate.
However, complex input data such as the fibre contents of diets and even the numbers and size of animals are rarely accurately known on a typical farm which limits the ability of the equations to provide simple but accurate measurements.
Several studies have shown that as diets are manipulated to lower CH4 output the fatty acid profile of the milk they produce changes in predictable ways. In general, with lower CH4 producing diets the proportion of long chain fatty acids within the milk increase.
A French company, Ecosens, has developed a patented equation in collaboration with INRAE and approved by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which estimates the CH4 production per litre of milk produced based on the fatty acid profile of the bulk tank.
The fatty acid profile of bulk milk is already measured by National Milk Laboratories (NML) using Middle Infra-Red (MIR) spectroscopy. These results are not reported unless requested but they can be used to feed the Ecosens equation and produce a CH4 measurement for the milking herd very easily.
Map of Ag are partnering with Ecosens to provide this service in the UK and in New Zealand.
Rezare Systems was founded in 2004, with the founder directors having worked at AgResearch, NZ’s premier crown-owned agricultural research institute. Over the years Rezare Systems has developed an enviable track record in developing solutions that are best in class and derived from our expertise in building customer-centric software, leading development methodologies, and science-backed digital solutions for agriculture.
Map of Ag’s vision is to be the most trusted global data platform connecting farms and industry. Map of Ag was founded by New Zealand farmer Forbes Elworthy as a spin-out from his agri portfolio investment business to meet a growing need for data-driven insights into farm performance.
Incorporated in 2015, we have since acquired several businesses: Precision Prospecting in 2016, The Evidence Group and Precision Decisions both in 2018, and Rezare Systems in 2020. We are now 120 staff with across offices in the UK and New Zealand.
At the heart of our business is our data platform, Pure Farming, connecting farms and industry making sure data originators can control how their data is used and by whom.
Customers beyond the farmgate increasingly need access to farm and environmental data to achieve their business objectives. Farmers are increasingly asked to spend time supplying this data which they have already entered into systems for management purposes. Existing data is often hard to access, poor quality and difficult to organise. Map of Ag works as a trusted partner to connect farms and the supply chain allowing them control of their respective data.
As a company our values are ‘VITAL’
Value: We will deliver demonstrable benefit to our customers, recognise everyone in the business has something to offer, and put something back into the industry and society.
Innovation: We will be tireless in developing best-in-class solutions and processes that put us out front in the marketplace.
Trust: In everything we do, we will act with honesty and integrity – our people, our solutions, and our relationships.
Agility: We will be willing to adapt to evolving needs and considered in the changes we make.
Longevity: We will keep looking over the horizon to future-proof what we do today for the needs of tomorrow, and continually learn from our experiences and peer.
To bring the brands within the Map of Ag Group together, we have updated the branding of Rezare Systems to show strength across the group and create a consistent style.
Julian Gairdner, Chief Commercial Officer at Map of Ag Group says: “Trust is essential for us. We strive to create a trusted brand identity and the alignment of the Rezare Systems brand with the Map of Ag Group, cements Rezare Systems as a core enterprise within the portfolio.”
The Rezare Systems logo has been adapted to a sphere style icon, encompassing the Map of Agriculture colour palette. The new logo conveys a more contemporary and dynamic feel, designed to reflect the leading technologies which Rezare Systems provides for its customers.
Andrew Cooke, Managing Director (NZ, Australia) and Chief Technology Officer Map of Ag Group, says: “Here at Rezare Systems we help agribusiness embrace digital and progress their technology journey. Our new branding not only better reflects us as a business but also demonstrates our journey with Map of Ag.”
I’ve been reflecting on Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy report these past few weeks.
Henry presented his update to the finalised project at this year’s online Oxford Farming Conference in January. The report is wide ranging in its breath of coverage but also remarkable in its relative brevity and common-sense to refine complex issues into a series of coherent recommendations.
Among those 14 recommendations, it was Recommendation 11 (investing £1bn in innovation to create a better food system) and Recommendation 12 (create a national food system data programme) that particularly pricked my interest.
It was particularly pleasing to note the report placed significant value on the role of farmer-led innovation. It said: “The UK spends on agricultural research and development around as much as France and twice as much as New Zealand but has seen slower productivity growth than either of those countries, relative to agricultural turnover”.
That’s why, the report argues, the £280m Defra has already earmarked for innovation through its Agricultural Transition Plan must ensure that a “full spectrum of farmer-led approaches” is supported. This is a good thing. We know that much of the problem in the UK is the ineffective translation of scientific research to action on the ground. Farmers are key.
Allied to this was a recommendation to fund two “What Works” centres along the lines of others that already exist such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
In the case of agriculture, the work done by the Food and Drink Sector Council’s Agricultural Productivity Working Group in conceptualising (and piloting) the Evidence for Farming Initiative (which itself took its lead from Design Thinking work we led on behalf of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) should form the basis to one of the centres. The EFI has demonstrated through its net zero pilot that it has the potential to translate the farmer-led R&D that Defra will be funding into quality-assured guidance for policy makers, farmers and their advisors.
Recommendation 12 is particularly interesting being as it is based around setting up a National Food System Data Programme. The purpose of this, the report says, is to collect and share data so that the businesses and other organisations involved in the food system can track progress and plan.
The overall tenet of this recommendation is, I believe, sound particularly as it seeks to bridge the gap between what goes on on the land with what happens beyond the farm gate. But it does raise some points for consideration too:
For our business, we feel well placed to support what is in recommendations 11 and 12. Fundamentally, those recommendations point to a strong need for findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable data on or about farming businesses that has attached to it the relevant permissions and authorisations for a defined use. In Pure Farming we have such a solution that is designed to ingest, standardise and cleanse, permission and deliver data for myriad use cases, providing farmers (and other data originators) with confidence that their data will be used appropriately.
We stand ready to help.
At a time when the pressure on land use is at an all-time high our belief is that among the many options that will be deployed in the pursuit of sustainable food production, the role of data is critical.
Back in 2009 the chief executive of the Australian Commonwealth Scientific Research Organisation Megan Clark said that in the next 50 years, the world would have to produce as much food as we have ever produced in human history. Mind boggling!
Now, I haven’t validated this claim, but it is plausible and a useful barometer for the scale of the challenge ahead at a time of worrying global insecurity, climate change and the very obvious conclusion that we cannot address this by bringing more land into production in the way we did in the middle of the last century before the green revolution.
Thus, one has to start to look at how we can square the circle of producing more from less, at better quality (for which read healthier) and with a focus on reversing climate change. Innovation is needed now more than perhaps ever in the history of humanity.
Why might data hold such an important key?
Technological progress has made data access and interoperability (in theory) a reality. But there remain many challenges around this. In the UK alone a combination of outdated tech, siloed data sources, lack of aligned standards, and a cultural scepticism about where and how farmers’ data can be used and by whom, is holding us back.
That’s why our focus as a business is in providing a world-leading data integration platform that addresses a number of these points. With Pure Farming we have put the farmer’s ability to be in charge of who can use their data, at the heart of the solution. Farmers (“data originators”) can receive requests for access to their data and only accede to those if they feel comfortable with and approve the Ts and Cs under which the party requesting the data (“data consumer”) wants to use their data.
Furthermore, by connecting “in” to the platform multiple sources of data on or about the farmer’s business (such as the farm software they use, or even a weather station), the farmer can use those same built-once data bridges (“data connectors”) to agree to data requests from multiple different parties at the touch of a button, with the data being made available to those data consumers as well organised and structured data themes through industry-standard APIs. And importantly we respect that it is not our data. It is the farmer’s.
Why is this potentially game changing for innovation?
To feed 10bn people in the coming years will require a reset to the model of how we grow, process, transport, store and sell food. At every stage of this process there are opportunities to do things better. But this needs a more collaborative approach to the use of data right from farm to fork.
We are already seeing this in action with work we are doing around sustainability. Some of our corporate customers are working in a highly proactive and inspiring way with their farmer suppliers to measure and mitigate the GHG footprint of farm product and in so doing providing farmers with data dashboards – and importantly insights that those dashboards reveal – that provide pathways for effective change. On occasion farmers have been stunned by the revelations in their data and it’s provided the impetus to do things differently.
Elsewhere, I’ve often discussed with people in the industry about whether the effective use of data in core farm operations or genetic breeding will have the most significant impact on sustainable food production in the next decade or so. But the reality is the two are not mutually exclusive. With increasing connectivity and integration of farm production data, scientists are starting to test new varieties for example in “real” situations at scale where they can combine genomics, farmer knowledge and environmental analysis in so-called decentralised 3D breeding programmes. This is particularly important where there is a need to enhance local adaptation in challenging farming environments.
Closer to home, I led some ‘design thinking’ for AHDB a couple of years ago to conceptualise what has subsequently become the Evidence for Farming Initiative and which may become a “What Works” centre as advocated by Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy. What was interesting about the concept was the acceptance of and need to match scientific discovery alongside farmer knowledge and experience, with data sharing and exchange being a vital component to release innovation.
While it’s easy to extoll the virtues of a data-driven approach one should not forget that this stuff isn’t usually easy. Too many farms are not measuring anything of consequence at all. And all too often we find that even if they are, the quality of the data is poor – rubbish in usually means rubbish out.
But even small amounts of data from only a few sources can make a difference and there is no doubt in my mind that we are heading in the right direction and the opportunities to open up inspirational innovation through on-farm measurement and the collection and sharing of data are just around the corner…if not already upon us.
It’s easy to feel dragged down by the unrelenting challenges that the pandemic has brought, but there have been many examples of agile adaption to the rapidly changing circumstances that have inspired me and command my complete respect. In truth, the global agrifood sector has, for the most part, been incredibly resilient and resourceful, though we must not ignore the significant difficulties specific sectors have had to deal with over the course of the last two years some of which are dramatically ongoing.
The pandemic has forced society as a whole to view life through a different lens and in time it is possible the havoc it has wrought may also prove to have been the spark that initiated significant positive change, for example in areas such as climate change, or indeed social welfare.
This first issue of Horizon focuses unashamedly on data in the agrifood sector and the articles we have commissioned demonstrate the breadth of opportunity that a data-driven focus could deliver for the challenges our industry faces. Our business at Map of Ag is all about data and creating opportunities throughout the agrifood supply chain to do things better.
In the past 12 months, our technology teams have made huge progress on delivering our new data integration platform as a service (iPaaS), Pure Farming, and we are hugely excited by the potential this cutting-edge solution can bring to the sector in 2022.
The international nature of our business (we are operating in the UK, NZ, and Australia) means we have access to some of the key market signals across a wide range of agrifood sector businesses, economies, and climates enabling us to build solutions that we believe are truly fit for purpose in a scalable way.
Our role is all about connecting data in a secure and trusted way to enable businesses inside and outside the farm gate to thrive and adapt to ever-changing demands, both environmental and social. Horizon is another way in which we aim to fulfill that connection promise.
The opportunity is huge in agrifood and we look forward to working with you to achieve your goals and ambitions in 2022.
Much was made of whether or not the deals struck at COP 26 would go far enough to limit global warming to less than two degrees Celsius (preferably one-and-a-half degrees) above pre-industrial levels.
But it was harder to cut through the noise and determine what some of the rhetoric could mean for the ag sector. Indeed, there weren’t too many specifics but some sense can be made by focusing on the two key greenhouse gasses in agriculture.
Nitrous oxide emissions are created from the application of organic and inorganic fertilisers and the resulting nitrification and denitrification in soils – an essential biological process in growing plants.
According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), “at COP26, governments recognised that soil and nutrient management practices and the optimal use of nutrients lie at the core of climate-resilient, sustainable food production systems and can contribute to global food security”.
It is encouraging to see this focus on nutrients and in particular the use of reactive nitrogen. The movement focusing on #nitrogen4netzero has been gaining traction, not only due to the impact on GHG emissions but also the co-benefits for water and air quality and reducing the impacts of nitrogen deposition on biodiversity.
Map of Ag has focused heavily on nitrogen use efficiency in the past two years with pioneering work with Kellogg’s Origins growers in the UK. The work has provided evidence of the opportunities to reduce environmental impacts and improving margins in the process.
Methane emissions continue to be a focus due to its potency as a GHG (~85 times CO2 over a 20-year time frame) and due to its short-lived status in the atmosphere (average 11.8 years). This short-lived nature means it does not have the same cumulative effect as carbon dioxide so while some argue that it is less of a priority, policy makers now view this as an opportunity to accelerate action on global temperature rises.
This is reflected in the Global Methane Pledge agreed at COP26 which aims to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by 2030. While this pledge is centred on waste, oil and gas industries, the scrutiny of ruminant livestock methane emissions will continue. There are already calls for the pledge to include agriculture which accounts for ~50% of global methane emissions.
Although there is an awareness in certain quarters that livestock are an essential part of our agricultural production system, as an industry we need to provide a better narrative to support this and demonstrate this through data-driven evidence.
For example, emissions from cropland which amount to 11m tonnes of CO2 and measured in a separate inventory to agriculture (Land use, Land use Change and Forestry), are being partially offset by approximately 8m tonnes of removals by grassland.
So how do we create the positive narrative?
Data led approach
There are still many gains to be made in improving production efficiency to meet targets and improve emissions intensity (CO2e/Kg product). Efficiency should not be confused with intensification as efficiencies can be found in all production systems. These efficiencies must focus on the key resources we use on farm – land, livestock, feed and fertiliser. We need integrated data management systems to inform management decisions which apply to every farming system.
The other side of the net zero balance is creating removals of carbon dioxide. Creating a baseline of carbon stock in soil and above ground woody biomass (trees, hedges etc) is essential and the data that feeds this must be accurate and gathered in an appropriate way.
Improvements will be driven by improving the methods for data collection, organisation, and use. Specifically, to GHG emissions, the approaches we are adopting for collecting data reduce administrative burdens on farmers by minimising duplication in accessing data, but the most valuable benefit that I have found has been in improving the accuracy of the data collected, which has considerably improved the level of analysis, insights and recommendations that are made as a result.
There are continuing discussions around which tool should be used. This is understandable as farmers are looking for appropriate means to measure the baseline. But really, this is a moot point. Map of Ag is agnostic about tools as long as they meet standards for scientific rigour and transparency. We are working with partners to streamline data collection to inform third-party models.
Emissions calculations and models are continuously being updated as scientific evidence evolves. We need to make sure we have the right data to inform these models, as well as ensuring that data is owned and held by farmers so they can adapt and not be beholden to a single tool provider.
The most important element of GHG measurement is the data that feeds the models. This is the area where most models presently fail – their ability to process high resolution activity data means that accuracy or results is diluted along with the useful insights that can be generated – resulting in generic recommendations for GHG emissions reductions.
We have been working on data collection to improve GHG emissions calculation and are finding that we can get far more value from the assessments than simply a GHG emissions figure.
We are generating Key Performance Indicators from automated data sources that can help identify efficiency gains that can be achieved on farm. This has both a GHG benefit and a positive impact on profitability through resource efficiency.
This is an area that will continue to evolve but as farmers, we need to ensure we maintain control and ownership of our data and hold it in a form that can inform the most relevant and up-to-date models.
The turn of the year is often a time when we consider what has happened and what might take place. It can even be a good time to look a bit further out and consider how the budding technology trends of today might influence our future livelihoods.
The Gartner hype cycle graph demonstrates this. Starting from zero there can be a huge spike of hype about a new technology, but it is difficult to see what real-life adoption might be like on the other side of the hype. In fact, the Gartner hype cycle is just that – a “spike” of hype and then disillusionment, superimposed on a traditional cumulative technology adoption curve. The challenge in reading technology trends is to understand which may be pure hype, which have potential long-term application, and what the underlying adoption curve might be.
While the spike of inflated expectations may make it hard to assess which technologies will be adopted, it can also serve to bring forward adoption that might otherwise take years. Expectations drive investment, and investment can speed technology development beyond the purely incremental.
So, what rising technology trends might impact agriculture in the coming years? Three trends encapsulate several different technologies and their common opportunities and challenges.
The typical phrase that is used is “artificial intelligence” (the type of “AI” that doesn’t involve insemination!). But it’s important to look a bit wider than just artificial intelligence and consider a set of related technology trends that revolve around “augmenting” or assisting our understanding and decision making.
Trends in this space include:
Pattern recognition technologies
These are tools and systems that train machines to recognise patterns in data. Depending on the types of data involved, this can include computer vision (various types of image processing), and natural language recognition and semantic analysis (understanding what people say). It can include the use of “deep learning” (training computers to recognise patterns, and then reusing that learning) and “machine learning” (automatically finding mathematical relationships between data). These technologies are often collectively called artificial intelligence.
A key use of pattern recognition is to collect data without human effort. Examples include monitoring milk to anticipate somatic cell count or using satellite images to monitor crop growth stages and disease or nutrient problems. Companies are using these technologies now, but the coming years will bring scale, reduced costs, and the ability to “connect things up” and use this “recognised” data for multiple purposes.
Digital Twins are systems that take real-world data about farms, crops, and livestock, and place that data into mathematical models that help us with visualisation or prediction. The models themselves may include relationships discovered through machine learning analysis or more traditional scientific trials and human-developed algorithms – or even combinations of both.
Digital twins can provide early warning of infection or stress in livestock and crops. They can help us to visualise the nitrate or methane emissions of farm systems and undertake “what if” style analyses of different options.
Digital twins and connected data allow for predictive models and smart visualisations to be updated more frequently and analysed at greater scale than was previously possible.
Mobile applications and faster networks with improved coverage will allow us to access insights from augmented intelligence “as we need them” – either in real-time as decisions need to be made, or in the right context for our work. Experiments with virtual reality, augmented reality, speech recognition and related tools may also provide new ways to see, hear and interact with the outputs of augmented intelligence.
Connected Sensing and Automation
One source of the data that will drive future decision technologies is the spread of affordable and connected sensors.
The “Internet of Things” (IoT) is the term used to describe a network of connected sensors and actuators used to gather data and control systems. IoT devices make use of a variety of modern networking technologies (short and long range) to deliver information to the cloud, and sometimes to take instructions from centralised servers.
Newer battery technologies, and at times use of solar energy, enable network connectivity and more frequent measurements than would have previously been possible. Modern IoT devices may receive updates to their embedded software over the network, allowing problems to be corrected and functionality to be improved.
Importantly, IoT devices are often (though not always) more affordable than previous generations of sensing and automation devices, and therefore can be deployed in greater quantities, giving a corresponding increase in granularity or scale of monitoring.
IoT and other connected devices and sensors are increasingly changing how we measure and manage in farming and environment systems. For instance:
Automating data collection tasks that farmers would have previously had to undertake manually (if they were undertaken at all). Examples include recording the activities involved with milking animals, including quantity and characteristics of milk. Lightweight sensor devices on animals collecting animal wellbeing, movement, and feeding information much more frequently than livestock keepers could otherwise hope to observe in their animals. Movement and temperature sensor data – when combined with the augmented intelligence already discussed – can predict heats, infections, even stress and boredom. We have long been able to download yield information from combine harvesters, although the task of walking with a USB stick has sometimes stopped that data being used. An internet connected harvester, however, becomes a very large IoT device, collecting yield data and quality assessments in real-time. As the data can be collected without human intervention, it is more likely to be leveraged with soil, satellite, and hydrology data to support future intelligent decisions.
Catchment-scale monitoring of rivers for nutrient flows once occurred with monthly data collection visits from sensors. New floating IoT sensors will collect river metrics in real time. The increased time-series granularity will allow us to understand whether we are seeing real improvements or declines in water quality, or merely the response to local rainfall events. In combination with farm activity data and intelligent models, farmers may even gain insights into the practical activities they can undertake to improve ecosystem health.
Connected sensors may soon support the logical next step in automation: responsive environments. Sensors, data networks, and digital twins combine to support machine-driven controls that operate within constraints that farmers define.
This is the agricultural equivalent of a car that uses radar to keep its distance from the car in front, or your phone which adjusts its screen brightness in response to the ambient light. We’re starting to see early examples of creating responsive environments in agriculture such as:
Targeted application of nitrogen to crops based on their growth stage, farmer decisions, and real-time measurement with N sensors
Irrigation systems that apply dairy shed effluent to fields taking into account soil moisture sensors, effluent pond levels, and forecast rainfall
Greenhouse control systems that automatically adjust air flow, temperature, and irrigation based on plant growth stage, sensors, and rules the grower has set, rather than purely based on a pre-programmed recipe.
A common thread to these technology trends is substantially greater collection and use of data. Much of the processing will be carried out by sophisticated computer software operating in the cloud.
For many farmers, this could sound like an Orwellian nightmare: their farm and activities under continuous observation, remote decision making, and the threat of a remote “big brother” making judgements.
It’s fair to ask whether the benefits that technology promises are worth the loss of privacy and control.
Farmers, their suppliers, and their downstream customers will not gain the full benefits of augmented intelligence, connected sensing and automation, and other technology trends unless the questions of trust, control, and security can be satisfied.
Fortunately, in the same way that technology is bringing us new solutions for collecting and interpreting data, progress is being made in the components needed to support digital trust across the industry.
One of the key needs is a coordinated model for data permissions. Those who create data in their business (or more precisely, about whose business the data is collected) need to control how that data is used.
This is not just a case of restricting access. Indeed, it may be one of extending access – being able to give appropriate data access to staff and co-workers, or to vets and agronomists. Farmers and growers may want to provide subsets of data to supply chain partners, input suppliers, or software tools of their choice. They may need to control the types of data accessed, agree the purpose of access, and even change their mind and remove access.
Frameworks in this space are still evolving and it’s an area that is full of acronyms. The most widely used framework is a specification called OAUTH 2.0 (Open Authentication). This provides a secure way of granting data access to software systems but doesn’t facilitate agreements between people or organisations. An in-development extension to OAUTH 2.0, UMA or User-Managed Authentication provides a centralised way to control data from multiple sources but is also focused on software access only.
Distributed ledgers may offer some long-term solutions in this space. Distributed ledger technology is the cryptographic engine that underpins blockchain and crypto currencies, but you can use distributed ledgers without speculating on digital coins. This technology might allow digital signing of structured data access agreements – in a way that the signatures can’t be lost or fraudulently generated, and all changes and approvals recorded over time.
Data access agreements in this form could be used hand-in-glove with digital identity (a trustworthy way of linking an online identity to the real person or company that controls it) that is still under development.
While the underpinning technologies are still evolving, trusted industry data hubs and controls are starting to provide farmers with the control and delegation they need. Our Pure Farming platform is among them. It allows farmers to define data access permissions at a variety of scales, to other software systems, organisations, and individuals.
There is much still to be done around trust and security of farm data. Initiatives such as the NZ and UK Farm Data Codes of Practice, or the USA Farm Bureau Federation’s privacy and security principles help to establish the mandate for farmer and grower control of their data and to provide the principles that will underpin future data access agreements.