KiwiNet brings agriculture and technology together

iPads and smartphones likely to prompt new ideas for farming software

Increased contact and collaboration between people with agricultural and digital-technology knowledge is the hoped-for result of a one-day forum hosted by the Kiwi Innovation Network (KiwiNet) in Christchurch today.

This, in turn, could bring new uses of technology to improve quality of farm produce and the ease and efficiency of farming.

The forum includes researchers as well as farmers, and companies in the agricultural and technology areas. These multiple skills combined in one person are rare, says Professor Ian Yule of Massey University, attending the meeting. So more teamwork is probably needed, but this often clashes with the individualism of the New Zealand farmer, he says. “They like to think they can do it all themselves.”

There is likely to be a wealth of promising innovation to be developed and exploited, particularly on the basis of new portable hardware such as iPads and smartphones, Yule says. Software developers attending the forum could well be stimulated with new ideas, or adaptations of existing programs to the more convenient app style, using, for example, the inbuilt cameras now part of most portable devices.

More frequent monitoring of the nutritional content of crops could be used to plan economical fertilisation regimes, to maximise nutritional and monetary value, for example, Yule says. Using technology, farmers may be able to identify areas of diseased crops and economically treat only the diseased plants before the condition spreads.

“We’re looking both for ways of making farming more profitable and ways of making life easier for the farmer,” he says.

So far, the most conspicuous success in applying recently developed technology to farming has been the self-steering tractor – an expensive solution but with an obvious benefit. The forum hopes to uncover less obvious but equally beneficial applications of digital technology, then consider the “roadblocks” to their successful implementation and commercial exploitation, he says.

Applications of technology could be in improving the efficiency of education as much as direct on-farm use, Yule adds.

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