Digitization can help farmers with planning, monitoring, and reporting fertilizer and pesticide use
Updated: Apr 24
Reporting on our experience in the field
At foris.io, our goal is to bring critical farm data from different sources together in one central platform and provide treatment recommendations based on holistic data, so farmers can make informed, sustainable and profitable decisions. However, in talking to several farmers and agricultural experts, we learned that a significant amount of farm data, mainly associated with pesticide and fertilizer application, is still recorded and stored on paper, excel sheets and even post-it notes. One farmer even mentioned that deciphering the handwriting on paper records was very frustrating, especially during state/federal reporting. Further, depending on the size of the farm and employee schedules, there can be significant delays before farmers have access to this data.
For farmers and farm managers, not having easy and real-time access makes many operational tasks difficult to execute effectively such as keeping accurate records of pesticide and fertilizer application data for federal and state reporting, ensuring farm personnel are aware of treatment zones and restricted entry intervals, and auditing/verifying in real-time that treatments are taking place as per plan. For foris, not having real-time access to data makes it challenging to provide accurate treatment recommendations. The big question for the foris team was: How can we integrate real-time, non digital fertilizer and pesticide application data into our platform without disrupting farm operations ? and how can we make this data useful to the farmer ?
Bootstrapping a Solution
In order to address this challenge, we started by understanding how pesticide and fertilizer application happens on the field, and how this data is currently recorded. We worked closely with personnel responsible for fertilizer and pesticide application at our partner farm, in Woodland, CA. In our discussions three things became clear i) any new solution to record data would have to make it easier and less time consuming for personnel involved compared to recording data on paper ii) the solution would have to be cost effective and be scalable across different farm employees iii) it had to help make the business more profitable.
Keeping these in mind, we decided to build a mobile-app based solution, since all farm employees had access to a smart phone and were very familiar with using apps. After treatment, personnel responsible could record details on the app, rather than on paper/post-it notes. We worked on making the UI very intuitive and automated as much of the data entry as possible. Also, we made sure every entry would be available to the farmer and the farm manager in real time, in a format they needed. Finally, we enabled text notifications to all the farm employees to make them aware of treatment plans, treatment areas and restricted entry intervals.
Pilot Testing and Learning
We started pilot testing the app during the 2019 growing season. We had several key learnings on further streamlining the process of data entry, and building trust with farm employees regarding data accuracy and security. We are now working on incorporating these learnings and understanding how we can bring in other stakeholders like agronomists and pest control advisors to provide treatment recommendations directly via the app. We are also working with our farm partner to understand how we can help them organize this data for reporting.
For foris, being able to get real-time access to this data has been very valuable in our mission to provide the most accurate, actionable treatment recommendations to farmers based on holistic data. For instance, using real-time fertilizer data with soil chemistry and moisture data, we are able to determine if nutrients are available at the right depth for optimum uptake.
At the end of the day, our goal is to be able to help our grower partners carry out their operations sustainably and profitably. Members at our partner ranch are excited about the app, and have expressed how it could help streamline their operations. Our farmer partner has stressed the need for being able to access all the data from central platform, and is very supportive of efforts in getting there.
We are looking forward to testing our app across different farms in 2020. Give us a shout out at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to learn more !