With some suggesting data is the new crop, Farmers Guardian asks those at the forefront of farming how businesses can reap the benefits.
DATA is one of the key buzzwords of the moment.
While the interpretation of it might not be at the forefront of producers’ minds on a daily basis, most collect it and rely on it to make everyday decisions.
It might be something as simple as monitoring farm input costs or forecasting daily liveweight gain and the resulting impact any changes could have on the business’s bottom line.
A recent Farmers Guardian survey found about half of farmers benchmarked, to measure financial or technical efficiency – and almost all of those who did reported profitability and wider business benefits.
David Kirby, managing director of financial software specialist Figured, said data should be seen as part of the farming business.
“You cannot manage what you do not measure, data should be at the heart of everything you do,” he said.
“It does not have to be perfect to start, the important thing is to get systems that automate collection, storage and analysis.
“The next frontier of farming is data-driven.
“The advances that are coming will divide farmers into data-driven versus judgement-based and, in the long run, the gains will come from those collecting and measuring the impact of their decisions.”
Andrew Robinson, partner and head of agriculture at business advisers Armstrong Watson, agreed.
He said: “Up-to-date financial data has never been as important when running and managing farming businesses, especially now in the very uncertain times we are in.
“Having the right systems to analyse and present this in an easy manner is important. It allows you to plan forward and to monitor financial performance.”
New tech helping farmers get the most from data
NEW software was making it easier to gain insight on what was making money on any given farm, said Gary Baldwin, director of agriculture at Baldwins Group.
It also meant farmers were able to make decisions quickly and ‘do more farming while spending less time in the office’.
“If you are taking the time to record your financial information into accounting software to comply with VAT regulations, then it does not take much extra work to make that data useful for managing your business,” said Mr Baldwin.
“If you analyse your information into the correct income and expenditure codes, you will shortly have a very accurate handle on how your business is performing.”
Tom Povey, founder of digital systems provider My Future Cloud, highlighted the need for ‘good quality’ data to ensure the best and most accurate end result. However, he pointed out some businesses were still reliant on paperbased systems.
“It is not just small businesses we are talking about here, but large businesses turning over hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, still operating with paper-based systems when they could be saving time, money and manpower with an automated, digitised system,” said Mr Povey.
“We need a step change in agriculture. We must take data collection seriously and see the major benefits it can bring.”
But NFU chief science adviser Helen Ferrier said one of the barriers to the agri-tech revolution was poor rural broadband and mobile coverage.
“There are ways of getting around some of that, but it is always going to be a bit of a tricky one,” said Dr Ferrier.