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Soil sensors. Pest control platforms. Monitor irrigation. satellite images. Labor management. Revenue forecasting tools. Share files. And even social media management. As agtech has multiplied over the past decade, the tech stack on the modern farm has become staggering. For farmers tasked with growing crops and managing all this IT, that is an increasing challenge.
These tools generally don’t talk to each other. Platforms are not compatible and information is in silos. Indeed, a study found that 86% of agtech platforms do not effectively share and analyze the data obtained.
Missing in all this technology is the ingredient that makes our phones function seamlessly. The same tool that turned computers from esoteric machines into devices that anyone could use with a few clicks. In other words, agriculture urgently needs an operating system.
Industry Analysts stopped counting agtech tools for years, but suffice it to say that the modern farmer has thousands of technologies at his disposal. And increasingly, these technologies are a table game rather than bells and whistles.
Extreme weather conditions make farming less predictable and increasingly risky. Import prices have skyrocketed due to supply chain gaps and inflation. More than ever, growers need to find efficiencies to expand their resources and save time while meet pressure from regulators and food vendors to justify their actions.
This is the promise of so many agtech today: doing more with less. But with so much on their plate, farmers need technology that’s streamlined, easy to use and integrated – and a farm control system can help.
Related: What Matters Most When Choosing Smart Farming Technology
So what is an operating system (OS)?
In technical terms, a operating system is the software that “schedules tasks, allocates storage space and presents a standard interface to the user.” Notable examples include Microsoft Windows, Google Android, and Apple’s iOS – without these technologies running in the background, other applications wouldn’t work.
But what we need for agriculture is more conceptual. We lack a central hub – a place where data is pooled and where digital tools are coordinated. After all, this is what iOS does for iPhone users. There are 3.6 million different apps that Apple users can use seamlessly on their phone, and it wouldn’t be possible without the iPhone operating system. iOS is the primary intermediary between the user and the hardware, providing a common framework for communication and data sharing.
Consider the iPhone Health app: It can collect data from whatever apps a user chooses to track things like sleep quality, heart rate, and mileage in a day. It integrates that information and provides a streamlined interface, uncovering powerful new insights.
That kind of data sharing, usability and compatibility between software and hardware is down to the operating system – and it’s the kind of integration that agtech desperately needs.
Related: Why an Agriculture Revolution Should Be the Next Space Race
What Booting a Farm Operating System Might Look Like
Right now, farmers are spoiled for choice with a variety of apps and devices. But for these tools to work optimally, there must be a foundation.
For users, an ideal farm control system would be a one-stop shop to collect and display the vital functions of the farm – from temperature to moisture levels and pest populations, and even labor and equipment availability. Equally importantly, an operating system would help farmers guide decision-making by providing data-based insights about what actions to take and when to take them.
Finally, a farm control system would provide a unified interface for farmers to deploy their technologies, from remotely activated irrigation and pest control to autonomous tractors.
What makes this under the hood system so effective is data collection and sharing. A common operating system on the farm would also allow for greater connectivity between data sources such as labor, equipment and yield, and it would also accelerate the development of new applications.
In agriculture, data is power. But while a lot of data is collected on farms every day, it is often stored in a particular app and is not integrated with other programs collect additional information.
For example, a grower can capture data from his field with a drone, but there should be no bridge to translate the visual data into useful advice for applications. It’s up to the farmer to do the analysis, gain insights and find solutions – work on their plate. A farm control system would allow these technologies to work together and communicate their data to give farmers the answers they need.
Related: Key Agritech Trends to Expect in 2022
So, how do we get there?
If the case for a centralized farm control system seems clear, the reality of building one is more complex.
For starters, we’re starting to see patented end-to-end crop and farm management platforms that strive to bring diverse agricultural technologies into one hub. However, the problem is just that: these platforms are proprietary. They often only integrate a limited number of technologies and tools. In fact, some proprietary platforms encourage the sale of chemical inputs, rather than prioritizing farmers’ interests.
A better approach is a farm operating system purpose-built by an independent agtech company. The ideal platform is compatible with a full range of tools. It should provide advanced analytics, but provide farmers with a neutral and unbiased space. Finally, a true farm operating system must be robust enough to handle new technologies, but simple enough for anyone to use.
Admittedly, this is easier said than done. But when done right, these systems become so invaluable that they go almost unnoticed.
What is clear is that this kind of approach has the potential to transform agriculture. At a time of so much uncertainty for farmers, an integrated control system puts growers back in control, giving them greater visibility and control over their results.
A robust operating system would open a new chapter for agriculture, with improved profitability for the farmer and sustainability for the environment. It’s time we lay the foundation for agtech that puts power back where it belongs – in the hands of the land’s stewards. That starts with a farm OS.