Agriculture means bread and meat on the table. How to get it there is becoming a technological feast. Software designed specifically for the farmer is fast becoming a silicon-based staple. Lance Donny, Founder and CEO of OnFarm Systems took the GigaOM stage to explain the importance of technology down on the farm.
Lance Donny CEO of OnFarm emphasized the benefits of agricultural technology
OnFarm Systems integrates data such as weather, machinery, soil moisture, workers, and pesticide application from several sources making the farmer’s traditional dawn-to-dusk workload a little less onerous. Donny said: “Farmers are overwhelmed with information. They are not IT people; they spend 8 to 14 hours a day in the field checking their crops.” OnFarm software integrates data from most hardware sources and makes it available on PC’s, laptops, tablets and phones providing ready access to the farmer at home or in the field. Dashboards illustrate important information in an easy to understand presentation.
Water use and delivery is generating much debate in California and abroad. Donny told us that 70 percent of all of California’s freshwater is used by agriculture. Soil measurement is based around the amount of water that is remaining in the soil. Sensors at various locations send that data to be digested, organized and put into a simplified presentation.
OnFarm runs on multiple platforms consolidating critical information for farmers
Donny grew into his agricultural expertise on his family’s vineyard and capped it with a degree from CSU Fresno the hometown where he based his company. Fresno is in the heart of the agricultural valley of California where restrictions on the use of pesticides as cotton harvest aids is a critical topic. Having quick reference to those regulations ensures compliance by the farmer.
Sugar beets, sorghum, almonds, pistachios, plums, and the largest crop, grapes, are a sampling of the more than 350 crops coming from this rich land benefiting the world. Alfalfa seeds from the area are exported to the Sudan. Chickens and cows round out the eclectic foodstuffs coming from almost 2 million acres in central California.
Tracking labor costs is a pivotal item in farming. Donny acknowledged that the agricultural labor force in California is shrinking. That affects the viability of specialty crops like almonds and fruit crops and “stoop labor” crops because harvesting them is labor intensive. Other crops grown in the Midwest, such as corn and soy are more automated, needing no direct labor during harvest.
Imitating the childhood experiences of Lance Donny Founder of OnFarm, University students in Columbus, Wisconsin study pest management in the field
Donny’s immersion in this agricultural community was the foundation for the not yet two-year old company which has garnered the attention of IBM and Silicon Valley. Cloud-based OnFarm Systems was a winner at IBM’s SmartCamp which highlights and supports startup companies creating innovative solutions for the cloud, big data, analytics, mobile, and social technologies. At Launch: Silicon Valley 2013, another event for start-ups, venture capitalists and angel investors awarded OnFarm a Most Likely to Succeed award. They sited the company for facilitating yield and quality of crops while reducing fertilizer, water, labor, and energy.
OnFarm encourages companies that have developed tools and services which help growers meet regulations or increase yields and profitability to partner with OnFarm Systems as a means of connecting with potential customers. Several companies have taken them up on the offer.
C3 Crops’ patented Soil Information System (SIS) provides Agricultural Forensics including soil content and root depth
C3 Crops delivers imaging of crops and soil maps which indicate factors limiting output which can lead to problem solving through PurePixel vegetation mapping. C3 prides itself on its patented digital and 3D mapping tool system. Another OnFarm partner, Agrian tracks what’s happened to a crop in each growth stage through harvesting. Their product promises safe, profitable crops which comply with pages and pages of state and federal government regulations. On their website, you can do a Label Lookup available on computer and mobile devices for information regarding vegetation protection and nutrient applications. A quick search for controversial Round Up resulted in a list of nine products from Monsanto. In addition to a General tab, you can click on Crop Specific, Documents, Safety, Registration, and Manufacturers Information.
To put a cap on the value of OnFarm Systems, Agrian says: Growing safe, wholesome food is more than science—it's an art. Not to mention an extremely complicated business.