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We recently wrote an article for the NIAB TAG Landmark publication outlining the work we have been doing with NIAB over the last season. Have a read below to find out how we are bringing 'big data' services to their membership. 

KisanHub, a Cambridge-based agricultural software company, has been working with NIAB to deliver a new software platform to the NIAB TAG membership. Every member has been given access to, with 1,300 already signed up. A great start, but this is just the beginning for NIAB’s move into ‘big data’. In this article we will explore what this means for NIAB TAG members and how NIAB and KisanHub are best placed to deliver these new services for members.

Analysing farm data is nothing new; my grandfather, Professor of Agriculture at the University of Cambridge, used to analyse farm data in a similar way as we are do now. Obviously, the big difference over the past 30 years has been the introduction of computers to assist with data collection and analysis. While he used a pencil and notepad to collect data and analyse it for his research, we have developed computer-based software platforms to help do this work in a fraction of the time; technology with the potential to be used in every farmer’s home. I am often asked why there has been such a recent increase of interest surrounding the term ‘big data’ in agriculture. It’s partly down to the introduction of cloud computing, which has made it much easier to put data’ tools’ at the fingertips of anybody with an internet-enabled device. This is the technology that has enabled Google to make searching the internet in seconds possible or Facebook users to connect with each other. KisanHub and NIAB will use similar technology to develop services for the benefit of NIAB TAG membership.

The focus of over the past season was to provide an interactive way for members to view NIAB TAG trials and agronomic information. By using a jointly developed trials platform to record and analyse its data NIAB is already reducing the time it takes for results to be collected on trial sites to being viewed by the members, with many already using the NIAB app on smartphones and tablets to check trials results as they are posted this harvest. Starting in October 2016 there will be a greater focus on providing new functionality to help farmers record and then analyse their farm data alongside NIAB’s trials data. Alongside NIAB we believe there is great potential to bring a new offering to UK agriculture which is independent, scientific and secure that only organisations such as NIAB and KisanHub are placed to do. This began last season with the release of the crowd sourcing applications. Over 300 members have already used these online tools to record their own personal data on everything from yellow rust to cabbage stem flea beetle through to using the oilseed rape Sclerotinia alert service. The platform has created a way for data from a number of sources to be collected and analysed which was previously impossible. We also believe it is about analysing the correct data at the right time to make meaningful decisions. Last season any NIAB TAG member logging on to the system could get a Sclerotinia alert based on their location and local weather information, coupled with sclerotial germination and petal infection. We have also worked with NIAB CUF in the potato sector to develop cloud-based systems to forecast and optimise marketable yield, improve resource-use efficiency and reduce wastage in the potato supply chain. These are examples of why we have chosen to work so closely with NIAB’s agronomic experts as they have the knowledge and insight to deliver the most meaningful tools for their membership.

Accessible information

Modern farming is a complex business; farmers have a lot of call on their time from spraying, programming precision farming software, not to mention managing a team, selling on the futures markets and doing the accounts... all in the same day! We all know that keeping accurate records is key to running a successful farm operation, but we also know how time-consuming, dull and difficult it can be. At KisanHub we are obsessed on how to make farm records simple, easy, and most importantly, useful. Too often farm records and accounts are filled out only for a tax or farm inspection. We want to turn record-keeping into a powerful tool that benefits you and improves the bottom line. The platform combines farm records with other datasets so that farmers can make informed day-to-day agronomic decisions. For example, the platform uses farm/field geo-locations to collect hyper-local weather forecasts and actual observations, for field activities planning, or it can blend these datasets to provide a risk level for a particular crop disease for proactive spray planning. The platform can pull data from Davies or Skye Minimet weather stations provided the user has a data subscription package for these stations. NIAB has already begun entering field trials data on the same platform so users have immediate access to trials results. Over time, members will be able to compare their fields against nearby NIAB trials to compare yield responses to treatment, varietal performance and perhaps identify any yield gaps. This level of accessibility to scientific data is missing at the moment, but the platform is bridging that gap.

Cloud-based systems

So how do we do this? Our cloud-based software, developed with NIAB and members’ insight, allows users to update and manage data from anywhere in the world – record key information in the field on our smartphone app, back in the office, or on holiday...! It then starts aggregating various other datasets for your farm, from sensor readings to satellite images. These aggregated datasets drive crop growth models, pest and disease forecasts, irrigation scheduling and yield forecasting models to enable users to make day-to-day operational decisions. The cloud infrastructure is capable of handling such datasets for hundreds of thousands of hectares. Users can access the platform through the web dashboard and the smartphone app. We are big believers in simplicity; good software just works, there is no need for long training courses, Windows 95 style forms or waiting on hold to speak with support. At KisanHub we try to make sure we present information in a way that makes sense. Through maps, calendars and graphs you can record and view all key field information quickly and easily; no need to spend hours drawing farm boundaries either, you can just upload your farm map in one click.

Going forward

As a NIAB TAG member keep an eye out for new functionality coming your way shortly. We are always working on new and useful features to make farm record-keeping even easier. Using technology to automate recording allows farmers to concentrate on the job at hand and spend less time in the office inputting data. We are even working on automating farm operations straight from the tractor-cab, using external data sources to fill in the gaps. For example our hyper-local weather forecasting will automatically record the weather parameters when undertaking a spraying activity. To conclude, technology is beginning to change the way things are measured on the farm and has reduced the cost of doing it; wireless sensors, GPS, telematics, web and mobile apps allow farmers to monitor their crucial farm information with increasing ease. What is yet to be fully realised is how we can use this to help make betterinformed decisions. Here at KisanHub we are working on providing the tools to help growers do this.

This article was written for the September issue of "NIAB TAG Landmark" You can find out more about NIAB TAG membership and access to the here:

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