Updates made to Map of Ag’s FarmMetrics solution

As part of its continuous investment into its suite of technology solutions, Map of Ag is currently working to further enhance the capabilities of its FarmMetrics software.  

 

Developed over the past 10 years, FarmMetrics is an online web portal that allows organisations working with farms to access reports, insights, and gather further information from farms where required. FarmMetrics compliments the Pure Farming data platform, with data ingested from existing data sources permissioned for use within the software. FarmMetrics is currently used by a wide range of organisations, including food retailers, food processors, farm consultancy organisations and public industry bodies, covering a range of agricultural sectors.  

The development roadmap for FarmMetrics includes many new features and tools, along with enhancements to existing capabilities ensuring it continues to meet the needs of clients and their suppling farms. The below table provides a summary of some of these  new features. 

Feature  What will it offer? 
Cross Device Support  Improved cross device functionality, ensuring FarmMetrics can be accessed via a range of user devices, including smart phones and tablets. 
Client Administration  Allow users the ability to manage configuration of the software, data capture specifications & report content independently, giving them full control.  
International Support  Updating the interface to support multiple languages and local data preferences, allowing international businesses to more easily use it.  
Sustainability Insights  Use a range of new environmental sustainability models to provide insights on areas such as greenhouse gas emissions or nitrogen use efficiency.  

The new features will be rolled out in stages starting in early 2022. Richard Myers, FarmMetrics Product Manager, explains

FarmMetrics has delivered a huge amount of value to our clients to date, and has seen a high growth in the numbers of users, particularly in the past 5 years as agriculture becomes more digital. It’s therefore important that we continue to enhance core features, to support our clients in meeting their commercial needs, whilst also ensuring the data sharing process is as seamless and transparent as possible for the farm users who use it.

For more information on FarmMetrics, please email info@mapof.ag

VelTrak lifts sector’s traceability

The supply chain for deer velvet as an ingredient for medicinal and food products is a complex one from farm to final processing.

 

Deer Industry New Zealand recognised a need to bring greater transparency and trust to this supply chain to satisfy New Zealand’s food regulations. It also wanted to meet the expectations of multinational health and consumer goods marketing companies. 

The organisation recognised that having a tracing system for individually harvested velvet that extended along the full length of the supply chain would help build trust in the market. A digital solution was required to prove the supply chain’s validity and transparency, from the farm based velveting facilities, to final processing point.  

Deer Industry New Zealand CEO Innes Moffat says developing a tracking system for the deer industry was a big undertaking for a relatively small industry body, but one that was important to enhance the reputation of this valuable  product.

“The unique aspects of velveting, with its on farm collection, the need for veterinary supervision, and collection by velvet buyers meant there are multiple parties involved, and multiple compliance issues that need to be addressed and included in any tracking and validation system.” 

For that reason, Deer Industry NZ approached Rezare, and welcomed the company’s proposal to develop a bespoke system, now known as VelTrak. 

“Rezare understood the challenges and complexities and did not try to simply sell us an ‘off-the-shelf’ solution to that.”

“Our aim was to have a system that was as seamless as possible, tying all aspects and all parties together under it.” 
 

Innes says a key requirement of VelTrak was to move all parties off  a paper- based recording systems into a single digital recording platform.  

Veterinarians are now able to search the farm’s regulated control scheme (RCS) status prior to supplying velvet RFID tags, with a “red flag” ensuring non-compliant farmers will not be supplied.  

Tags for attachment to harvested velvet are able to be recorded by VelTrak when scanned out to clients, removing the need for vets to have to transcribe tag numbers into their own logs of tags allocated to farmer clients.  

“Vets can easily look up their stock of tags, and order more online, while the system ensures more efficient monitoring of tag stocks and allocation by clinic.”

“And for farmers, they will find the paperwork is removed for them, and they don’t need to scan the tags.”

“All farmers have to do is just keep tagging their whole-stick velvet and confirm an electronic velvet status declaration (VSD) when notified it is ready. Copies of paper VSDs are no longer needed, and all are stored digitally and are searchable.”

“Rezare have worked with us on a system that has many different combinations of farms, premises, ownership status with veterinary professional involvement adding another layer of complexity.” 

Wade Parker, Rezare’s project development lead on  VelTrak says the previous recording system  worked but was manual and paper based, which did not give the transparency and auditability that is now needed. 

“There was a  potential issue with recording dates and numbers manually. We developed VelTrak ensuring tag data on velvet was captured by scanning, along with most fixed data such as addresses being pre-populated into fixed forms or capable of being selected from menus.”
 

But Rezare’s input also extended beyond the farm-vet interaction. The VSD is created by whoever is buying the velvet from a farmer, whether independent buyer, processor or packhouse, compared to the old system where the farmer generated the VSD. 

The ability to read an entire bin of tagged velvet using a UHF RFID scanner enables a rapid read and creation of the VSD, from where the VSD is then sent to the farmer to complete the declaration.  

The VSD form is a legal requirement to have traceability within the supply chain.  The farmer must declare through the questions on the VSD form that their velvet consignment complies with the requirements for human consumption. 

The system ensures traceability for every movement of the velvet through the supply chain. For example, every step from farm to independent buyer, then packhouse to processor is traceable.  The tags provide visible assurance about the velvet’s compliance.  

Individuals in the supply chain are able to see one step up the chain, and one step down, with Deer Industry NZ seeing the entire chain. 

VelTrak’s requirement that all participants throughout the supply chain be registered with Deer Industry NZ ensures no opportunity for an occasional velvet player to enter and exit, risking undermining the work done by long standing players in the market. 

“The project was helped along a lot by Deer Industry NZ having a project manager on board who understood both the deer industry and software needs, this helped make a tough project somewhat easier,” says Wade. 

VelTrak will be fully live for the new season’s harvest of velvet from spring 2021, but initial feedback from early trial users has been wholly positive. 

“We have been able to develop a solution to quite a complex supply chain and unique product that has balanced the budget of the client against functionality – it only incorporates what was needed.  

“We worked closely to only build what was needed in an efficient and agile framework.” 

Why is data important for the future of the agri-food supply chain?

From growers and producers to processors and retailers, every element of today’s food and agricultural supply chain is undergoing a huge transformation.

 

Across the sector, businesses are facing increasing pressure from consumers and policy makers to be more integrated, transparent and sustainable, producing food that’s safe, environmentally friendly, and offers value for money.

It’s a change in dynamics which is undoubtedly creating challenges, but it’s also creating opportunities for innovation and evolving relationships across the supply chain, too — thanks, significantly, to data.

The value of data on farm 

When the UK’s National Food Strategy was launched in June, it stressed the importance of using data to help tackle the environmental, health and supply issues the UK is grappling with.

In its recommendations to government, it outlined plans for a £1.03bn innovation fund that would include funding for a national food system data programme, helping the food sector to collect and manage data to plan and to track progress.

For most producers, collecting data and using it to help guide their management and decision making isn’t a new concept.

Over the past decade, data collection has evolved from writing down rainfall and yields in notebooks to using advanced sensors, precision location tools and automation, capturing real-time insights to help guide day-to-day management.

This digital information explosion has prompted the development of big data systems to help producers visualise and use information effectively, which in turn has unlocked possibilities in analysing and sharing data more strategically.

From a farmer perspective, being able to look critically at individual operations and compare them to similar operations is vital to driving sector improvements and reducing costs.

Benchmarking production data, for example, has helped with everything from reducing antibiotics use in pig production, to improving genetics in the dairy industry, reducing input use on arable farms, and tracking the spread of disease in crops.

Supply chain potential 

Beyond the farm gate, data is unlocking significant potential across the supply chain, helping drive innovation, profitability and sustainability from farm to fork.

Increasingly, retailers and processors are working more closely with their networks to identify where they can streamline processes, meet targets and ensure compliance, particularly from an environmental perspective.

In the dairy sector, for example, dairy cooperative Arla has collected data from its producers as part of its Climate Checks program — a tool that identifies the carbon footprint of herds by analysing everything from feed composition to fertiliser use.

The co-op’s latest data revealed its 1,964 UK farmers produce milk with a carbon footprint of 1.13kg/litre of carbon dioxide equivalent — about half of the global average.

Given that Arla has pledged to reduce its farm emissions by 30% by 2030, data like this is important for internal benchmarking, contract requirements and meeting business targets.

What’s more, it is also enabling companies to share evidence of industry progress with policy makers, researchers and consumers — something that is becoming increasingly important as the farming industry faces pressure over its wider sustainability and environmental impact.

Meeting targets with data 

At Map of Ag, we’ve been heavily involved in projects enabling the food supply chain to use data to work collaboratively and improve financial and environmental sustainability.

Through our work with the EFFP and Kellogg’s Origins programme, for example, we’ve created systems to enable growers to measure nitrogen use efficiency and assess greenhouse gas emissions reductions through more targeted use of nitrogen.

By using sensors to monitor nitrogen use across a group of Origins farmers, we discovered application could be cut by as much as 25% while achieving the same crop yield — driving down costs as well as emissions.

These types of data-driven projects help connect the dots between growers, processors and consumers, and are key to creating transparency in the supply chain.

Data safety and collection 

Of course, the movement towards collecting and sharing data has raised questions about the ease and safety of sharing sensitive data, prompting players across the chain to work towards creating secure sharing systems.

Organisations such as the Food Standards Agency have investigated the potential for developing trust frameworks which allow data to be stored and managed centrally, while also enabling certain information to be temporarily linked in a safe way.

Map of Ag has been involved in creating a robust data storage and management system with Red Tractor, a certification organisation which assures animal welfare, food safety and environmental standards. By creating a secure ‘online filing cabinet’, producers can upload records and link them to relevant compliance schemes, enabling Red Tractor assessors to check documents before inspections to check for compliance.

And the development of our Pure Farming data integration framework is focused on putting data originators (often farmers) in control of who can use their data and for what purposes.

Systems like these not only streamline data sharing processes, they also allow all players in the chain to react to information, ultimately driving more collaborative relationships — and often provide the doorway to smart innovation.

The future 

Looking ahead, there’s no doubt the role of data in the agri-food supply chain looks set to gain greater significance, particularly as innovative data, agri-tech and food production systems are developed.

Data will be important at both the macro and micro level: Aggregated (large) data sets will help in strategic planning for national and regional policy and also corporate decision making, while highly granular data will help farmers and growers deliver sustainable productivity gains and manage the environment better through levels of detail and insights previously thought impossible. Machine learning and AI will form much of the backbone to this.

Much is also being made of the potential of Blockchain, a system which allows businesses to record and share data in a way that can’t be altered.

In the US, grocery giant Walmart is already insisting some of its growers use blockchain so that food’s history can be traced in seconds in case of a food scare, while the technology is also being used to show consumers exactly where their food comes from.

And startup ripe.io is making waves in the tech world thanks to its system which tracks the ripeness, colour and flavour of tomatoes, helping farmers determine when a plant is ready to be harvested.

Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s and Unilever are trialing Blockchain to create green contracts for farmers in Malawi to track inputs and receive a premium for using them sustainably.

Ultimately, while the full potential of data in the agri-food supply chain is still being unlocked, its potential for helping food systems become smarter, greener and more efficient means the sector is on the edge of an exciting revolution.

Businesses who are prepared to share and harness data, connect their systems and seize the opportunities data offers will be the ones who will reap success, particularly in an era focused on sustainable production and transparency. And that means all participants in the chain, from farm to fork.

More needs to be made of improved nitrogen management to curb climate change

More than a quarter of farmers in the UK and Republic of Ireland are yet to be convinced improved nitrogen management could be important in reducing farming’s impact on climate change.

 

That’s the finding of a recent poll conducted by Map of Ag’s National Farm Research Unit in the run-up to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26).

The agrifood industry has come under increasing scrutiny for its impact on climate change and organisations have started to set targets to reduce Green House Gasses (GHGs) and become Net Zero, some as early as 2030.

Much has been made of opportunities from carbon sequestration and carbon credits, though these are yet to secure a stable return on investment for the farmer. Nitrogen though, presents a significant and often overlooked opportunity to reduce inputs, emissions and improve soils all while savings costs for the farmer. But how well does the industry know this?

We polled 2,395 farmers across the UK and the Republic of Ireland (RoI), and when their responses were weighted against our industry model (Farm Structures Model), the findings suggested some 165,000 farmers believed that nitrogen management is an important factor in the reduction of on-farm emissions.

Regions showing a greater understanding of its importance were the South East and Wales, both at 81%. By sector, dairy showed a greater understanding (74%), and across all sectors it was the larger-scale enterprises which were more engaged with the idea of improved nitrogen management to reduce farming’s impact on climate change.

But of the farmers polled, 12% were unsure of the importance of nitrogen management and 15% were indifferent or thought it was not important, representing over 61,000 farmers across the UK and RoI.

Map of Ag has been working on a collaborative project with European Food and Farming Partnerships and Kellogg’s Origins to measure, manage and mitigate nitrogen usage for arable crops.

Hugh Martineau, Head of Sustainability at Map of Ag, explains:

“Nitrous oxide occupies the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions for arable production, generally 70 – 80% per unit. By tackling nitrogen we can lower the emissions impact, as well as tackling the environmental impacts on water and air quality, biodiversity and nitrogen deposition, which disrupts sensitive habitats.”

 “With our Kellogg’s origins grower group, we have been using sensors to monitor nitrogen requirements across a group of Origins farmers, and we discovered  in certain circumstances, application rates could be cut by as much as 25% while achieving the same crop yield.”

The hope is that showcasing initiatives like this will increase awareness and highlight the need for further incentives needed to reduce barriers and engage farmers with methods and tools to manage their nitrogen use efficiency.

The climate change impacts of that improved engagement could be significant. Access to good data will be crucial to effect the much-needed changes to practice.

Why we value “Agility” and what does it mean?

What does agility mean for an organisation? Ultimately it is the ability to change and adapt in response to changes in environment. In Darwin’s terms, an “agile” species is a species that is “fit” for the environments in which it may find itself. 

 

Organisations embrace agility to “vastly improve the flow of value to the market”, as the delivery of value (customer value, new products, and team and shareholder value) is a key measure of success and longevity. Businesses that stop delivering value eventually become extinct. 

In the context of our business which principally delivers software and data, the value does not lie in the software or data itself, no matter how clever, the value is in the way the software or data helps to solve problems, enable better decisions, or meet market needs. 

There are several aspects to improving  agility, including: 

1. Assessing and prioritising real value 

For customers of our software development teams, this is often the hardest part of engagements. They always have a wish-list of potential ideas and features, and finite time and budget. Most don’t know how to assess the relative value of their ideas, and we are not always good at helping them.  

The same might go for our own product development – deciding which features should be done first, and how far we need to go to deliver most of the value. Sometimes this value can’t be truly assessed without piloting or trying the change or new idea with its potential users. 

2. Supporting behavior change 

Behavior change is necessary to get the benefit out of any software or system change – and behavior change is something that people do (end users and those who interact with them).  

In some ways, helping farmers and end users change their behavior is the most valuable thing we can do for our customers and the market. The same goes for improvements inside our business. 

3. Reducing cycle time 

Cycle time is the measure of the time between defining a potentially valuable idea and starting to reap the value of that idea (or if the value is unknown, at least being able to test the value and learn). Really this should include all the time taken to specify, design, develop, test, deploy, train, and finally get behavior change – although usually only the aspects to deployment are measured. 

Cycle time is important because if a fantastic, potentially valuable idea, can’t be tried with real users and start to get that value for 6 months, there may be 6 months of unnecessary costs or lost revenue. Agile techniques in software development focus on incremental, iterative delivery, opportunity for the customer to change and reprioritise work, and early and regular deployment of changes. 

4. Cultivating a mindset that supports agility 

The personal mindset is critical to team and business agility. We want to embrace a mindset of curiosity, openness to change and discovery. It is this mindset that allows us to reflect with our customers and discover better ways to solve problems. It is this mindset that will allow us to improve the way we deliver. 

In summary 

To embrace “agility” as a value in an organisation we need to focus on understanding where the real value lies for our customers and our business and prioritise work on the most valuable items. We need to understand that value doesn’t come from technology alone, but from end users (and ourselves) having open minds, making better decisions, and changing behavior. We need to continually look to reduce the time that it takes for us to deliver value into the hands of our customers and end users. 

Hard work – but exciting to aspire to because this is how, together, we will deliver value to society. 

Agritech developers collaborate on map data interoperability

There is no shortage of developers creating software, tools, and technologies for agriculture. Almost the opposite in fact. Farmers tell of the many different tools and solutions they need to use to record compliance information, analyse farm performance, monitor health and safety, and communicate with their staff and suppliers.

 

And there is room for a variety of different tools. Farmers may choose a specific tool that better fits their personal style, runs on their model of computer or smartphone, or integrates best with their supply chain. The frustration arises when these technologies can’t talk together: when you are prompted to draw your farm map (not a small task) for the third or fourth time, or when you must use arcane file export and import functions to exchange data.

So, it is refreshing to see agritech developers coming together to work on ways to streamline the data interoperability question. Even more so when those developers are from a range of organisations and businesses, from New Zealand’s largest agribusinesses to single person companies and including central and regional government.

This is what has been happening in the Geospatial data interoperability initiative, a collaboration facilitated by Rezare Systems under the auspices of the Agritech Industry Transformation Plan, overseen by AgriTech New Zealand, the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Ministry for Business, Innovation, and Employment.

For this initiative, a working group formed in June 2021 with two key learning objectives:

To prototype an “open-source”, collaborative specification development process that could be used to encourage data interoperability in other industry initiatives
To create a small number of specific geospatial (mapping) specifications that will support a variety of current and future uses – including land and environment planning, fertiliser and spraying, and farm management software.
Participants represented some 20-different companies and organisations across pastoral, arable (thanks to some Australian input), horticultural, and biodiversity spaces. They met weekly to discover common needs and work out technical specs.

Facilitator Andrew Cooke notes that the working group has taken a different approach from traditional standards bodies.

“Rather than a broad formal standard, which can take a long time to reach agreement and often end up overly complex, the group created a simple “minimum viable product” specification, using a data language – JSON Schema – that is supported by most modern programming tools.”

At the same time, the group didn’t neglect existing international standards.

“We’ve made significant use of GeoJSON – a newer standard for transferring geospatial information, and we’ve modelled our design on existing standards – especially the European INSPIRE mapping initiative, and AgGateway’s ADAPT data model.”

In August the group’s first version of the specifications were ready for use. The specifications support transmitting data about operating farm boundaries (called “holdings”), land management units or blocks (called “Sites” in the specification) and paddocks, fields, or horticultural blocks (collectively “Plots”).

The MVP specifications can be used for messages between computer systems, APIs that support integration, and even support storing information in distributed ledgers like blockchains. Group members plan on exploring a number of these approaches as they prototype and test the new specification.

The participants are keen to work together again and have a list of other features and specifications they would like to create. This includes hazards, biodiversity and forest areas, points of interest and activities such as planned or actual spraying and spreading.

For more information about the Agricultural Geospatial working group visit: https://github.com/Datalinker-Org/Geospatial/wiki

Thank you for registering

Thank you for Registering for our Rezare Farm Systems – Pre-Workshop Field Trip.

Bus Departs FMG Stadium, Hamilton at 10.00 am |  Wednesday 24th November 2021

If you have any queries please contact miranda.hennebry@rezare.com

Richard Vecqueray

Julian Gairdner

Andrew Cooke

Rob Burgess

Emily Barber

Alastair Grizzell

Megan Bryant

Hugh Martineau