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Opinion: James Dunn, managing director, Promar International

Technology

In an increasingly volatile political and economic environment, I am reminded of the old adage that if you measure it, you can manage it.

 

As an industry, UK agriculture needs to realise the vision and determination to use data to effect change and drive continuous improvement.

 

Measure brings control and a better opportunity to increase competitiveness.

 

In successful businesses, whatever the sector, a common thread is they have extensive data available, using it within and outwith the business to drive financial performance, growth and change to evolve strategy.

 

All key parts of the production process are measured and data used to reduce variability, increase efficiency and manage costs. It is used to look both at how the business itself is performing and how it compares with others.

 

Sadly, agriculture is generally lagging behind.

 

For the most part, farms have plenty of data available, although not all farms have all the data they could or should have.

 

It is often in disparate forms, from numerous different sources and hard to pull together to give the total picture.

 

Also, in addition, far too often it is treated insularly: ‘it is my data and I am not sharing it with anyone else’.

 

In an industry facing enormous challenges and change, it is time for individual farms, farming sectors and the industry as a whole to commit to data strategies based on the widest scale of data available.

 

This can be used to drive individual business and total industry efficiency and competitiveness.

 

Small data is about gathering data which can make a difference to your business, using it to understand your business, identifying strengths and weaknesses, allowing performance opportunities to be quantified and progress to be monitored.

 

Bigger data is using data more widely, perhaps through regional and other discussion groups, to share it and benchmark technical and financial performance to appreciate where you can learn from others. No-one knows it all.

 

Finally, there is big data, allowing datasets to be pulled together to open up opportunities for in depth industry analysis and challenge.

 

Organisations such as Agrimetrics are already looking at data in new ways, linking different data sources to unearth new ways the industry can evolve to become more competitive.

 

Data will drive evolution, but to derive the maximum benefit, individuals must collect data, use it themselves, then appreciate it must be made available more widely if maximum benefits are to be realised.

 

Increasingly big data will become the driver of improvement with progressive businesses.

 

Technology now means it is quicker and easier to collect and interpret data. Mindsets needs to develop at a similar rate.

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