Data, or measurements and data, are the basis to make progress in the agriculture and horticulture. Nowadays, we are dealing with increasingly more refined data, that we are also able to analyze really rapidly. In order to maximally benefit from this, setting up a standard for data sharing is an absolute must. Agrifirm uses JoinData for this and calls on all agricultural chain parties to do the same. The objective: better utilization of data that makes the agricultural sector more sustainable and more efficient.
“It is the Alpha and Omega of our work,” is Johan De Schepper’s response to the question what Agrifirm’s interest is in using data of farmers. The man responsible for innovation at the agricultural corporation points out that it has always been like this. “Our people use the data of cattle breeders and arable farmers to help them solve problems and achieve better results. Formerly, these data were exchanged on paper, afterwards using the computer in, for example, an excel-file and nowadays we have algorithms that analyze huge amounts of data to gain better insights.”
From Agrifirm, we now only share data on the basis of authorizations via JoinDataJOHAN DE SCHEPPER, MANAGER INNOVATIONS AT AGRIFIRM
Johan Heeren agrees. At Agrifirm, his responsible is the development of data-applications. “We want to impact a responsible food chain. Data is an enormous support in that regard. Instead of looking back, together with the farmer, our consultant is now able, together with the farmer, to make better decisions on the basis of data regarding the current situation.” This so-called “real-time” use of data makes it possible to gain immediate insight in, for example, the performance of animals in a particular stable. “It saves a cattle breeder performing inspections per individual stable because, on the basis of data, he can see in which stable there is a problem to be solved,” De Schepper illustrates.
Insight, prediction, regulation
Utilizing data involves a fixed pattern. The first step is to get information from the pile of collected data. This is usually done by having the computer find statistical relationships. An example of such an insight is a relation between certain raw materials in the fodder and the emergence of sole lesions in poultry. “As such, we could predict, on the basis of data, that two specific raw materials caused these problems. Our departments R&D and Nutrition subsequently studied and developed food strategies without the use of these two raw materials,” Heeren explains. As soon as that succeeded, Agrifirm was able to directly monitor the effect of the application in practice, with an improved result on the barnyard as an effect.
Data-analysis is becoming the basis for innovation more and more. But that can only succeed in case of sufficient reliable data, that can be well compared. Since this is interesting in particular, over the last decades various parties dived into the collection of data. Heeren: “This led to all kinds of individual links between the computers and sensors at the farming business and the systems of chain parties. This is understandable in itself, but we are yet in the phase where data is so important that we require a new standard that makes it possible for all farmers to safely and easily share their data. That is good for the parties utilizing the data to make better products and offer better services. But it is mainly good for the farmers themselves, because data can be brought to value more quickly, in a way that is controllable for the farmer. They retain control of their data by deciding themselves who can use their data for what purpose and when. If this results in no value, then the farmer is always in control to stop the sharing of data.”
Agrifirm is one of the founders of JoinData, the corporation that developed the new standard for the sharing farmer-data. Also other large corporations and farmer organizations have meanwhile joined. On the platform My JoinData, every farmer can manage his authorizations for the sharing of data. This replaces the patchwork of individual links between farmers and suppliers/purchasers. De Schepper: “From Agrifirm, we now only share data on the basis of authorizations via JoinData. Also other big chain parties are going to do this, so we will quickly have a new standard that makes sharing data easy and safe.”
Heeren adds: “In reality, you occasionally find that existing links are still being maintained. That is understandable, because parties invested in them, but it is not in the interest of the agricultural sector. The sooner we all use the new standard, the better.”
Concerning the latter: Dutch farming is leading in the world when it comes to efficiency and innovation. But where the utilization of data is concerned, they are not, as yet. De Schepper: “We have good contacts with corporations in Scandinavia. That is where they have vigorously taken up sharing data. It may be useful if we all take a closer look at that.”
And what about big tech-companies like Microsoft and Google, who put increasingly more effort in data-collection within the agri&food chains? Will they not be deciding how farmer data is going to be used? De Schepper: “We see that development too and it isn’t necessarily wrong that big-tech interferes with agricultural. We can join forces with them. And then it is particularly essential that we have a good platform, allowing farmers to retain control of their own data.”
Finally: some farmers are not too happy about having to pay a 50 Euro fee per year for the use of the JoinData management tool. This is what is being pointed out by parties that had rather kept using their own links. Heeren: “Yes, that’s right. But it is not smart to only want to invest in your own solution, while everybody knows that it is much better to have data work for the entire industry. In the digital world it is a fact that sharing equals multiplying.”
De Schepper adds: “It is peculiar that a 50 Euro fee is discussed for something as essential as this. It is the same amount that you pay for a three-months Netflix subscription. As JoinData, we need to somehow let our farmer experience the added value in a better way”.