Having a Fielday in the world of agri-e-business

Far from being gumboot-wearing, straw-sucking cow cockies, New Zealand's farmers are up there as leading users of IT. And an array of exciting and wonderful technologies are making their lives easier and more profitable.

Far from being gumboot-wearing, straw-sucking cow cockies, New Zealand’s farmers are up there as leading users of IT. And an array of exciting and wonderful technologies are making their lives easier and more profitable.

I know this because last weekend I ventured down to Mystery Creek in Hamilton for Fieldays, which claims to be the biggest agricultural trade show in the southern hemisphere.

On offer was software for just about every occasion and, as you might expect at an event held in “Cow Town”, technology such as computer-operated milking machines that let your prize Jerseys and Friesians milk themselves without any human intervention.

The main theme this year was “invention, innovation and ingenuity”, which included a one-stop shop for advice on how to “grow” ideas from initial concept to implementation. Specialists from the Ministry of Research Science and Technology, Trade NZ, James & Wells patent attorneys and ANZ Bank were on site to provide information on issues such as getting funding and intellectual property through to international sales and marketing strategies.

Deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton officially opened the show, which existed virtually on an extensive website.

The event included a showcase for new products, with awards given for the best. Companies unveiling new products at the show included Farmworks of Fielding, which released its Farmtracker software. Farmtracker allows for farm data recording, planning and management, as well as farm conversion and design.

Farmworks also showcased Watertrac, an economic modelling program for pastoral irrigation, which allows farmers to establish the financial returns for irrigation projects before they break ground.

Another Kiwi company was lauded by Fieldays organisers for developing a computer program to track foot and mouth disease and help with resource planning and allocation to battle the problem.

Seminars and presentations included Lee Williams of ACP Publishing subsidiary farmpoint.co.nz talking about “Internet and the Farming Community”. Keith Fisher of Palmerston North-based Double K Electronics spoke about the “Survival of the Kiwi Inventor” and Simon Hughes of Christchurch-based iAgri spoke about his Landmark Farm Software.

A tour around the event, and the Fieldays website, shows many other hi-tech goodies. Electroquip, for instance, produces electronic sheep dippers; AgTronics produces electronic dog collars.

The familiar farming portals Woolnet, for trading wool, RD1.com and Fencepost.com sites had large stands at the show, emphasising Telecom’s estimate that 350,000 Kiwi farmers are online.

Other portals include Netfarmer.com, which was launched in February. It features a tendering and quoting system where buyers and sellers can conduct business online at any time. Its services include a job site, financial services, free email, weather, news, classifieds and a chat room. The site also offers computer deals and comparative prices for mobile phones. Lifestyleblock.co.nz, which gave a talk with ANZ Bank, offers help to those with a lifestyle block — for instance, advising what animals to keep, what crops to grow and how to feed them.

There were certainly far more IT-related things at the show than mentioned here and far more than I had time to find last Saturday.

Coming away from the packed event, I could only conclude that perhaps we should not talk about farming any more or even agri-business: perhaps it should be agri-e-business.

Greenwood is Computerworld’s HR reporter. Send email to Darren Greenwood. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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