Agriculture in the Age of Information. Data for Decision-Making
Reliable information – data, facts, details – has become a crucial element to foster progress in any industry and society sector. According to Kemp (1976), ‘information has been described as the fifth need of man ranking after air, water, food and shelter.’
In an agricultural environment, relevant and timely information helps farming communities to take the right decisions to grow and enhance their activities. ‘Providing information on weather trends, best practice in farming, timely access to market information helps farmer make correct decisions about what crops to plant and where to sell their product and buy inputs’ (Bhagachand Bachhav, 2012).
Farming has traditionally been based on empirical observation, experience, and knowledge deriving from practice, often inherited from previous generations. Mechanisation and technology have transformed agriculture, though; the idyllic image of hard-working farmers connected with their land and living in harmony with nature has been long replaced with modern enterprises using an array of tools to prepare soils, seed, water, harvest, monitor, and generally look after the crops in a more efficient way.
Farming is a risky business, and wise decisions can mitigate the risks. Those decisions may concern anything, from crop selection and planting schedules to pest management and irrigation techniques. One of the most significant benefits of accessing data is the ability to make informed decisions. Even when they don’t use sophisticated technology, farmers wonder what could be done, for instance, to avoid frequent waste of their crops because of unpredictable weather or pest infestations. A case in point is represented by what cooperative leaders living in different emerging countries have recently shared with us during informal meetings with Farmer Charlie. They all expressed their concerns about an excessive and eventually useless amounts of pesticides or fertilisers in the fields; the regular pre- and post-harvest waste occurring in their farmers’ crops; the need for better understanding of the weather and irrigation assessment; and so on. Assistance to agriculture and provision of inputs is great for the smallholders represented by the cooperatives, but it turns out not to be enough without data and facts meeting the specific needs of each soil, region, and weather. Each choice and decision should be tailored to those needs.
With the help of sensors and data analytics, farmers can collect data on everything, from soil moisture levels to plant growth rates. It is then easier to determine the optimal time for irrigation, fertilization, and harvesting.
Once data is gathered and processed, a smart application allows farmers to access agricultural data on their smartphones or tablets, saving them time and resources. Farmer Charlie app shows information collected by the sensors and presented to farmers in a straightforward, easy-to visualise way.
Access to information may be a challenge to many farmers. Those based in rural areas may not manage to use libraries or research centres where they can learn what they need for their activities. Additionally, and more importantly, some farmers may lack any technological infrastructure or skills to exploit online resources.
To address these challenges, governments and private organisations are investing in initiatives to provide farmers with opportunities to obtain the information. For example, some organisations provide free online resources, webinars, and training programmes to help farmers improve their skills and knowledge. Governments are also investing in broadband internet to improve access to connectivity in rural areas. Farmer Charlie supports farmers located in remote areas with Internet connection and sustainable energy. Our technology can be integrated with solar panels if necessary.
It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that farmers are equipped to access the latest research and resources. To sort out this problem means to help them succeed in the increasingly complex world of modern agriculture and contribute to meeting the needs of a growing population.
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