Consider the farmer in your design of farm technology

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

Many innovations and technologies have been developed, released and used productively by farmers in Europe and further afield with growing regularity in recent years, but more real and detailed consideration of the farmer as user in the design stages would improve adoption.

The value of genomics is widely recognized and burgeoning drone use promises several potential benefits to farmers. Online there are a host of vibrant agricultural communities discussing farm practice and trends through social media. On our farm physical, time consuming labour has been reduced in calf-rearing through our automatic feeders. Elsewhere, it is estimated that 20% of all cows in the EU will be milked by automated systems in the year 2020, a percentage that will continue to rise if farmers can be shown clear proof of its practicality and benefits. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a development of the internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity allowing them to send and receive data, essentially the interoperability of all smart-devices. An excellent example of this in agriculture is the Keenan InTouch system. This system collects live data to aid the farmer in managing animal feeding and ration formulation while improving milk quality in the dairy herd and finishing time for beef animals.

It’s estimated that fifty billion objects with a high level of interoperability will exist by the year 2020, integrating directly the physical and cyber worlds and improving our efficiency, accuracy and business through data exchange. Achieving the promised impacts of this worldwide data exchange requires thoughtful planning of the interfaces’ usability to prevent duplication and complexity, thereby encouraging use and adoption.

Adoption of new technology and management systems on farms has traditionally been low and it is only with an increased adoption rate that we can expect to see these new systems contribute to the agri-food sector in a meaningful way. As with any user, farmers need their engagement with technology to be as straightforward and cost-efficient as possible. When they are easy to implement and come with a clear benefit to the farmer, new technologies will meet little resistance in the modern market.

A current example of a process in need of user focus is online animal registration. The inability to edit submitted records and needless verification of each entry individually are features of department websites that can serve as an immediate deterrent. While it may be a positive and necessary step forward, the navigation of needlessly frustrating website design is needlessly unintuitive. The experience can easily lead older or less tech-savvy farmers to doubt the advantage of such tools, while also losing credibility among younger farmers used to much better user design. The result is government agencies missing out on valuable information and failing to maximise the benefits that modern advancements enable.

More broadly, it is necessary to develop productive data infrastructures and provide faster and more reliable rural internet, enabling farmers and other businesses serving farms, to involve themselves in data exchange that will be beneficial to them in achieving their productive potential. These advancements will provide jobs across the entire agri-food sector in tech, data powered solutions and innovation.

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