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New Tech for Tough Trends in Farming

by Jonathan Davis on January 11, 2022
 
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Farming boasts a long tradition of innovation, with agribusinesses always looking for new ways to keep ahead of everything from the competition to the weather. 

In 2022, farmers are set to see a new crop of challenges, but they have access to better solutions, too. 

Context matters, so it's important to look at any current challenges within a historical framework. Today's farmers face many challenges, but yesterday's did, too.  

Agribusiness has always been capital and asset intensive 

It takes many different elements to start a successful agribusiness, but the two most important are likely land and the machines to work it. From there, you can add consumables, including seeds and fertilizers for the growing season. And then you need facility assets for storing your equipment, supplies, and harvested crops. On top of that, there are additional ongoing costs, including equipment maintenance, repairs, and fuel. 

But there are now new challenges for agribusinesses 

Modern agribusiness trends affect everything from what farmers produce to how they produce it. 

Labor shortages 

The last two years of the pandemic didn't cause the labor shortage; it only exasperated it. Part of the problem is that fewer and fewer people are going into agriculture, and currently the average age of the American farmer is 57.  

There are also ongoing issues with immigration policies that make the system of bringing in seasonal manual labor less predictable and more expensive. 

Shifting demands 

Long gone are the days of terrible tofu meat alternatives. Current plant-based meat substitutes look and taste a lot like real meat, with some of them even "bleeding" for just the right amount of authenticity. Interestingly, the market is directed not at vegetarians and vegans but at current meat eaters. And with the growing popularity of plant-based alternatives, agribusiness needs to think about changing what they produce, both in terms of crops and quantities. For example, currently, the livestock animals in the United States collectively consume five times as much grain as the entire American population does. But if ranchers end up selling a lot less beef, how does that affect grain production across the board?    

Looking at the challenges, both old and new, many farmers need to find ways to do new things with fewer people. The good news is that with the right combination of technological solutions, they can. 

And in many cases, what pushes these new technologies from possible to profitable is robust enterprise asset management (EAM) software. Cloud-based, packed with features, it's the asset management software that helps you get the most from all your other investments. 

Controlled and autonomous drones 

Many agribusinesses are finding valuable applications for drones and adding them to their asset registries. These small, remote control aerial devices might be rotor-type or fixed-wing, depending on size and expected use. 

When equipped with digital cameras, these flying assets can take high-definition aerial photos, meaning agribusinesses no longer have to rely on satellite imagery to determine crop health. Farmers use imaging drones to assess crop growth, hydrology, and both current and season-to-season soil conditions. 

Equipped with sensors, drones might collect data on temperature, moisture, slope, elevation, and humidity. And outfitting a drone with the proper spraying equipment allows precise control over which areas are treated, often an improvement over the broad coverage of traditional crop-duster aircraft.  

Drone technology has even advanced to allow these autonomous aircraft to fly in swarms for cooperative crop monitoring and treatment. 

  • Drone technology also helps with: 
  • Estimating yield predictions 
  • Carrying out drainage planning 
  • Improving fertilizer usage 

Measuring results on cultivation techniques is a huge advantage for agribusinesses. With drones gathering information from above, there are more opportunities to compare crop conditions year-over-year and assess the effectiveness of initiatives, delivering bottom-line business insights. 

And like other valued farming assets, drones require preventive maintenance to perform at their best. Farmers can use cutting-edge EAM software to schedule and document the required specialized maintenance and upgrades. 

For example, an imaging drone needs a regular schedule of lens cleaning, especially in dusty conditions. A bit of dirt on the lens can bring the day’s photo shoot to an impromptu end. 

As always in aviation, safety is paramount. Regular maintenance keeps the drone asset in good working order and avoids accidental collisions with people or property. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on maintenance and keep the manuals handy in your EAM. 

An EAM platform can manage on-demand work orders to repair drones as well. The more sophisticated drones become, the more economical it becomes to repair rather than replace them. 

Although federal aviation policy hasn't yet outlined a required maintenance program for drones, airworthiness is always the responsibility of the operator. Ensure you care for your drones just as diligently as you care for your trucks and tractors. 

Connected technology 

Wireless communication and the Internet of Things (IoT) are revolutionizing industries around the world, and agribusiness is no exception. From using sensors that determine how much water a particular crop needs, to applying blockchain technology for shared learning between businesses, connected farming is driving change within the industry. 

Here, the need to have access to reliable wireless connection is indisputable. However, many rural areas still lack broadband technology. The FCC estimates 24 million Americans don’t have access to broadband Internet yet. 

Unfortunately, some frustrated farmers are facing a situation where they aren’t able to keep up with the pace of technological advancement because the infrastructure isn’t there. Until connectivity is available, using the offline capabilities of asset management software is one of the best ways to gather data no matter where you are on your property. 

For example, you might be on the most remote part of your acreage, collecting information on your vehicle assets. An advanced EAM software with offline mobile capabilities can gather that data and automatically upload it when you reconnect later. No rekeying and no need to remind yourself to do it later. 

This is especially useful for an agribusiness using EAM software for fleet assets. Tractors and trucks are often driving in and out of broadband access areas and using an EAM platform with offline capabilities speeds up data collection and keeps the fleet on schedule no matter where it goes. 

Data-packed analytics 

As agribusiness gets more connected, farmers will not only be able to collect more data but also analyze it with greater precision. Here are some of the ways to use advanced data analysis to streamline farming operations. 

Calculate key performance indicators (KPIs) 

Measuring progress toward goals isn’t always simple, especially for complicated agricultural KPIs like cost per bushel or cost per acre. These metrics involve tracking and consolidating all types of expenses. Be sure to leverage your asset management software to figure in the costs related to equipment repairs, parts, and materials. Using asset management software to analyze this data makes determining KPIs headache free. 

Track equipment life cycle costs 

Agricultural equipment is a significant capital investment, and it’s beneficial to determine the true value of these assets to make informed business decisions. Consider the cost for acquisitions, rentals, and disposal. Sophisticated data analytics make it possible to track maintenance and repair costs for each farming asset, determine its uptime, and calculate its life cycle cost. This enables a farmer to choose the best long-term equipment strategy. 

Identify trends in crop behavior 

Gathering data using technology, such as aerial drones, is getting easier for agribusinesses. Powerful analytics let farmers identify crop behavior trends and adjust their approaches to increase yield. 

Balance labor costs 

Accounting tools help farmers interpret their data and take the guesswork out of business decisions. Be sure to include maintenance costs from your agribusiness asset management software in your total labor calculations. Those added insights directly contribute to a farm’s overall profitability. 

Next steps 

To learn more about the benefits of ManagerPlus and how EAM solutions support the profitability of your agribusiness, schedule a free demo. 

Summary 

Drones, connected farming, and data analytics are only just emerging. The future promises new applications of those technologies to improve the profitability of agribusinesses. EAM software for farming supports agricultural businesses with the essential foundation for asset management and asset availability. It helps farmers get more value from their equipment, simplifies maintenance tracking and scheduling, and aids enterprise-level decisions. 

Jonathan Davis
About the author

Jonathan Davis

Jonathan has been covering asset management, maintenance software, and SaaS solutions since joining Hippo CMMS. Prior to that, he wrote for textbooks and video games.

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