In one of my earlier blogs, I considered whether farmers could better manage their farms to make the most of improved optimism and performance in the sheep and beef sector. The answer was yes; with a more structured approach to management based on the empirical data collected on-farm and utilisation of that data to define clear targets and thus facilitate more informed decision-making, farmers are in a very strong position to manage their farms better.
This commentary around the Sheep and Beef sectors can equally be transposed to Dairy or Arable because all areas abound with data rich activity.
How do you find the right management tools to manage your farm?
There are a significant number of management ‘tools’ available covering livestock, nutrition and financial management. There are, however, problems with many of these tools; one is that they can often require the user to re-enter data from other sources, another is that many tools overlap in functionality.
Farmers will benefit from a highly innovative technology sector that delivers applications that are simple to use and access, which are able to automate processes, integrate different data sets and DELIVER VALUE! (But I would say that given I work in IT!)
Data has the ability to provide operational improvements and optimise processes
It is the ‘Value’ discussion that I want to focus on today. For whether it resonates for farmers or not, the data they collect on farm and from external providers such as Fonterra’s milk data, for example, are strategic business assets. Assets that have the ability to provide operational improvements and to optimise processes; assets that can create the proactive ability to deal with regulatory compliance, e.g. from regional authorities around water and nutrient loading to NAIT etc, and give the financial insight to foster greater understanding of the business drivers.
Despite this ‘potential’ farmers (and to be fair many businesses) struggle to access, manage and leverage the information that they create in their day-to-day processes. The rapid growth in the number of IT systems has resulted in a complex and fragmented landscape, where potentially valuable data lays trapped in disparate inconsistent silos of applications, databases and organisations. Therefore creating an inability to gain a consolidated view of the business.
Know which data is important and which isn’t
Experience has shown that this is not a technology problem, it is a business problem. Technology is just the enabler. Creating an effective data environment requires change and coordination across the business. The use of data must be driven by an understanding of how information can enable or improve a business or on farm process. For example, stock revaluation and reconciliation has become an increasingly significant process. Given the greater need for reporting and compliance around NAIT. Not to mention the significant values now ascribed to stock, especially in the dairy sector.
Not all data in the business is critical. In fact, most data is specific to an application, business function or transaction. So farmers need to be able to identify the ‘critical’ data assets that will provide long term value to the business. For example, Kg’s of milk solids or dry matter grown.
For most farmers (and businesses for that matter) data is an active asset that is captured, created, enhanced and used in many of their business processes and applications. To manage this dynamic environment, the flows of data across systems and processes need to be organised in a coherent way. We have helped many organisations to do this. If you’d like to discuss how this process might work for your farm or business, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Kim Nankivell is a business consultant focused on helping farms and businesses to succeed through the use of technology. Kim specialises in the area of farm productivity. You can follow him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. View more information about our farming solutions specifically focused for farms in NZ, Farm Central.