Software in Agriculture

As someone who grew up on a farming estate in West Sussex during the 1960’s and 70’s; I have seen many changes in agriculture that have improved how farming is done.

It still means 4:30 am starts for many farm workers, especially the dairy hands and the joy of getting up in the morning to sub zero temperatures is something I personally am glad not to do anymore.

There are many upsides of course, during the spring, summer and autumn the changes in the countryside bring fresh food from the fields and woodlands and wonderful views.

So how has IT improved the farmers lot?

One example; when we had the foot and mouth epidemic in the UK in 2000 it lead to many changes directly effecting the farmer. Every cow had to be tagged and then could be tracked from birth to death. The upside was that each milking cow could be monitored for how much milk it produced, how much additional feed the cow needed etc. This lead to better management and improving output of a milk herd.

A second example is that of combine harvesting; this is the process of cutting the wheat, getting the kernel detached and sending it’s way to be ground down for flour.

In olden days (10+ years ago) a skilled driver was required to manage one of these beasts and keep everything in a straight line and transferring it’s load to a tractor and trailer.

Today, on-board computers have maps of each field, sensors to decide if the combine harvester is full and can auto-navigate it’s way across a field without a driver. It can do this with the most optimum of turns and reduces wear on the field and reduces fuel consumption. As it gets full; it can summon a tractor and trailer to offload the kernels in a timely and efficient manor.

All of this technology is improving and new idea’s being delivered by our universities; for example the University of Lincoln an IAP Academic Partner will improve our agricultural environment even more.

So what could possibly go wrong?

Enter the UK Government!

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) via the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) provides subsidies and payments to farmers.

CAP was originally designed to stimulate food production in Europe after the Second World War but has long been criticised for giving payments in such a way that have led to environmental damage; including soil exhaustion, a dramatic reduction in farm birds, and waterways pollution.

Unfortunately after several years this system still does not work properly and many farmers are having to borrow money from the banks to cover themselves for the money the Government should have paid them.

The issue here is the software developed in Italy does not do what it needs to fulfill the job. Changes to the software have been mismanaged and the Government departments involved, have met, considered, amended, cancelled and even passed the problem onto other committee’s to deal with.

The software was not fit for purpose! No one is taking control and farmers are being forced into bankruptcy.

The Government is paying some of the payments, but many, many more are being left out of pocket, not after one year but many years subsidies remain unpaid.

As a business owner; if I could not fulfill a clients order in a reasonable time; I would offer compensation or find another was to ensure my customer was happy.

I am surprised then that the Government has not even offered an interim payment; after all they could always adjust it when the system does work.

This was highlighted on a recent Country File programme shown on the BBC.

As a body who believes that software should be fit for purpose, the Institution accepts you may not be able to deliver everything immediately. However the project planning process should allow for this and provide alternatives or advice on what action will be taken and when. Clear timescales for completion should be kept to, not abandoned at a whim or offloaded onto some unsuspecting victim.

A possible issue here of course is. the software is Italian.

While many see farmers are farmers, the actually farming even in this country varies from farm to farm; Dairy, Wheat, Hay, Corn, Potatoes, Cabbage, Fruit the list goes on.

The software needed to be home grown (forgive the pun), the actual process is simple and while competition is now Europe wide, having someone who is easy to get to and can be related with on a day by day basis; Is ideal.

The fear may be that one of the big software houses try and capitalize on the project and see it as a big money earner, when a smaller software house could develop it and manage it at a much lower return, helping not just the software house but the farmers as well.

The upshot of all of this is; farmers are going bankrupt, some are committing suicide, while shoddy, not fit for purpose software is tying up not just Government resources but farmers who should be in the field.

I would like to think this is just a problem in the UK, but elsewhere in Europe the same things are happening.

BREXIT is being blamed by many, particularly MP’s for a lot of the woes; whatever your views, it is happening. The reality is we have known for three years we are leaving the EU and it is Government, No! Parliaments indecision that is adding to the problems, do not blame the people or the farmers for the problems.

We need to have software we can trust.

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