With tracing apps in the news, The English Apple Man investigates a new App designed to assist fruit growers manage orchard management and improve product profitability.
BIFGA TECHNICAL DAY - THURSDAY 23rd JANUARY 2020
Over 90 people attended the highly successful 32nd BIFGA Technical Day, held on Thursday 23rd January 2020, at Dale Hill Conference Centre, and there I met Kaye Hope of FARMABLE.
Hey! I'm Kaye, the Commercial Lead for Farmable. I spend most of my time talking with growers to better understand how they use technology today and what their needs are for better software in the future. As a Canadian living in Norway, I love speaking with farms from around the world and finding the common threads - it's incredible how similar we are despite the distances that separate us.
Kaye Hope reviews the rapid development of FARMABLE over the last few months.
"This is our first season with the Farmable app in the UK and we have had 35 British farms register and start using Farmable over the past couple months. 8 of these 35 are committed pilot farms who we have regular contact with to get product feedback, but we are happy to grow this number. The most important work we do as a software team is to work closely with growers and agronomists to check and double check that we are building something user-friendly and valuable to their daily work".
The most important work we do as a software team is to work closely with growers and agronomists to check and double check that we are building something user-friendly and valuable to their daily work".
The English Apple Man Comments.
Below: Amstrad PC circa mid 1980's
Farming like many businesses depends on accurate and accessible information. The days of 'writing it on a fag packet' are long gone. Technology was 'pen and paper' - I well remember my excursions into 'new technology' circa 35-40 years ago with my £500 Amstrad PC and primitive spreadsheets for the pesticide spray programme and crop recording data.
I thought I was at the cutting edge!
Today there is an ever expanding technology available to farmers & growers, however most have been developed with large scale arable crops as the target market. Farmable has been designed with tree fruit as the target market and been created and developed by an apple farmer.
Kaye continues: "Globally, there are 75 million farms which grow the fruits and vegetables our growing population consumes. Today, in-field operations such as spraying, fertilizing and harvest activities are often tracked by paper, spreadsheets or offline technologies. Farmable enables field operators and farm managers to efficiently track, monitor and record operations through mobile phones while generating a database of farm records to simplify reporting to authorities and marketing organizations.
Below: left; Lars Blikom and right; Martin Inderbitzin
Lars Blikom is the CEO and co-founder of Farmable and the co-owner of Norway's largest fruit farm. His team launched the first Farmable product in 2019 with a focus on European and Australian growers.
When Australian growers started adopting the app in the autumn of 2019, Blikom planned to travel down-under and meet early-stage users of the mobile app this past February. His first stop on a 2-week tour down-under was Far North Queensland, to meet some of the regions more progressive growers.
"Our team had an amazing trip to Australia in February"
The distance between Oslo, Norway and Cairns, Australia is 14,028 km. For two fruit farmers, it's challenging to find locations further from each other.
One struggles with drought and irrigation and the other with long, dark winters and short harvest seasons.
Martin Inderbitzin's, Kureen Farms, was a natural place to go to experience how a tech-savvy Australian grower leverages digital tools in an orchard operation. Inderbitzin's farm grows blueberries, bananas, avocados and macadamia nuts across 4 different farms and utilizes nearly 50 pieces of agricultural equipment.
Further, he has a track record of offering his time to pilot early-stage tech products and is up to speed on the most recent technology available to horticulture. "Martin grows more blueberries on a single farm than all of Norway produces in a year, recalls Blikom. Given the complexity of his business, I am very impressed how well-organized the farm is."
As an engineer with 15-years of technology development experience, Blikom is himself an 'organized farmer'. When taking over his own family farm in 2014, he noticed a distinct lack of systems through which to manage data for a horticulture farm. He quickly got to work using google spreadsheets and forms to manage data around crop treatments, harvest volumes and resource management. Fast forward a few years and 14,000km and it's clear Blikom and Inderbitzin share this story.
"It's amazing to see the commonalities we experience in growing fruit on opposite sides of the planet.
The challenges global orchard managers have when evaluating and implementing technology are staggeringly similar, says Blikom.
It would be easy to judge a commercial business like Kureen Farms as low-tech for running off spreadsheets, but in reality, this couldn't be further from the truth. The 200+ Ha farm leverages its' fair share of technology.
A quick tour of the premises and you can find weather stations, two irrigation systems including soil moisture probes, GPS equipped machinery, RFID tags on harvest bins and mechanical harvesters for his macadamia nuts. However, as Blikom also experiences, Inderbitzin agrees there is a missing control center for data management.
For growers, the scope of the problem is clear: horticulture needs a data management system geared for tree crops, that can be used to gather field-level data and integrate data streams from the many hardware sources found throughout a typical operation.
Lars Blikom is leading the change through Farmable, which has released a mobile app with a mission to simplify data capture and analysis for fruit farming. With cooperation from farmers around the world like Inderbitzin, the Farmable team is building the foundation to close the gap in horticulture data management.
Looking ahead - Farmable
Returning from far North Queensland to Norway, and the Farmable team is busy engaging with Norwegian farms.
High quality is important for Norwegian fruit growers, where consumers don't hesitate to pay a premium for locally sourced produced.
For Pal Audun Hoyen, who manages a 100 acre farm producing berries, plums, apples and pears this translates into needing to control the spraying jobs his farmworkers carry out.
For him, it all starts it with good communication to his employees. For them to do their jobs, they need accurate information on the type of plant protection to be carried out, including when to spray, which pesticides to use and how much to use.
Planning the current spraying of his strawberries, he uses the latest features of the Farmable app. Now he plans all spraying activities with Farmable's calculator. It allows him to set up a schedule for all his crop protection, and he has control over what needs to be done in his fields each day.
He has already enabled all employees to use Farmable so that he can delegate the jobs directly to the employees.
An employee can immediately see in the app what spray jobs he has been assigned to and get information on the details for each spraying job. During and at the end of the day, the grower checks his app to get an update on spraying jobs that are still ongoing and those that are completed. Using GPS tracking, he can also gain insight into what fields an employee has been in, so he can be sure all rows in the fields were sprayed.
After the spraying jobs have been completed, they are automatically stored in a spray log that he can use for quality control during the season. This way he minimizes the time he spends on required documentation in front of his computer in the evening.
While the Farmable team is embarking on its first season with UK growers, it is learning constantly from growers in both Europe and Australia. By the end of the 2020 season, Kaye Hope explains that the team will have launched a desktop portal for managing integrated data streams from in-field sensors, aerial imagery and weather stations.
"The app will always be the daily operational tool for the farming team, but the upcoming desktop portal will be a solution for planning and analysis, where the operation data can come together and be used for future decision making."
The English Apple Man Comments:
Talking to a grower who is trialling the Farmable App here in the UK, the app delivers many excellent virtues. The farm maps offer the ability to zoom in to the trees and retain high quality clarity.
The initial design features of Farmable were designed for growers needs across Europe and Australia, which although similar, have some specific requirement differences to the UK grower base. It is clear the App is still very much a work in progress for UK growers, which is why Kaye Hope is working closely with a group of UK growers to align elements important to their specific needs.
The general opinion of those canvassed by The English Apple Man is very positive, Farmable is the first management system designed by a tree fruit grower for 'tree fruit growers' - most management systems are spin offs from arable software.
Currently fruit growers use software that delivers a seamless ability to ensure legal operations of pesticides and a 'live audit capability' - e.g. changes of legal use - withdrawal of a pesticide - number of applications et al. ensuring the compilation and application of the pesticide spray programme has a failsafe guard.
In the UK we have some of the most stringent food safety regulations, requiring BASIS qualified Agronomists when writing and managing pesticide programmes. This is not necessarily so in other countries where tree fruit is grown.
UK Supermarkets require BASIS accredited Agronomists before accepting supply from UK growers, but 'it appears' are still able to import from countries which do not have BASIS qualified advisors, because their growers conform to those countries specific regulations.
It seems it is not just Chlorinated Chicken and use of Antibiotics in animals that are a threat to undermining our high food safety standards!
Farmable is a 'relatively new App' which will no doubt be harmonized with the needs of growers in different countries.
Exciting times ahead!
That is all for this week
Take care & stay safe
The English Apple Man