Technology is wonderful. It enables solutions to problems and makes life so easy. Push one button on my remote and I get access to every football game ever played. Push another button and the AC keeps my room exactly as cool as I like it. Push another few buttons and I can talk with a person 3000 miles away and even send them my picture. So why can’t managing my Ag business be that easy?
It is because in each of those “easy” areas (TV, Air Conditioning, and cell-phones) someone, or rather an entire industry, spent millions of hours to make it easy. In each of these “Easy” applications technology does a key thing … it accesses and analyzes complex data and presents the user with a simple set of choices with which to gain satisfaction.
For the remote … click on the 2010 Pittsburg Steelers playoff game and you are re-living the glory days. It is 68 degrees. For the AC, adjust the auto thermostat up as few degrees and sleep better. For the phone …select “mother-in-law” from you contacts list and hit “block calls” and have a quiet weekend.
To get to this ease of use takes the work of many people over many years, but the rewards in timesaving, cost saving, and satisfaction are worth it. Proof? You own these products and you use them daily. Let me repeat for effect …. you use them and are satisfied daily. The conclusion is making complex processes simple and affordable is good and makes your life easier.
For agriculture, we would like to be able to make the management of our businesses easier, but we are not there yet. Why? While we know the key questions that need answering in order for us to more easily manage our production (when and how much to irrigate, how much fertilizer to apply, are my fields pest and disease free, etc.). The truth is that all the information required to create “easy” tools for ag are essentially unavailable to anyone who is interested in using it. I repeat for clarity and controversy,
All the information required to make your life better (in Ag) is essentially unavailable to you.
But you say, “Mike … I can get soil information from the SoilWeb maps, and I can get soil metrics, and I can get Landsat imagery, and I can get aerial images, I can get vigor maps, and I can get weather data and calculate evapo-transpiration, and I can get field info, and I can get the amount of chemical applied, and I can get how low the water table is, and I can get how much water I am allocated this year, and I can get (fill in the blank) etc., etc. I can get it all! And the cool thing is that the data is FREE, mostly from the Government!”
Yes you can get it. But in reality you don’t get this data, because getting it is a very complex and time consuming manual process that adds up to another part time job for you. And that is key. You don’t want or need another job. You just want satisfaction with no strings attached.
It is pretty much another full or part-time job for you (or an employee on your payroll) to access a single one of these online data resources (soil, weather, imagery, etc.) in their current form. That is because you need expert domain knowledge and software knowledge in every step of the process to understand and deal with the complexities of each data source. So if you use soil, weather, and imagery you personally have 3 new jobs or 3 new part time or full time employees. So now the FREE data is costing 3 new staff at maybe $40K+ per year each for domain experts. So FREE is now a recurring $120K cost per year. Pretty expensive for any operation. Getting and using the data also requires buying multiple special software programs (Data management software, Image manipulation software (photoshop), image processing software (ENVI, PCI Geomatics, etc.), geographic information systems (ArcGIS, GlobalMapper, ). These cost between $50 and $5000 per year, recurring. So now the FREE data costs $125K per year. Be advised that NONE of these software packages have adequate users manuals so to come up to speed will take months and more money for training. To top it off, in order to run these software programs you will need new computers and bigger disks (add an additional $10000).
The bad news is that after all this expense, having all this data and SW does not mean that you can readily use and analyze the data because these SW systems are designed for general research and not for rapid real time Ag production support. Just dealing with the different new and historical file formats requires a Phd as in “pain in the neck”. There are so many key clicks required in the processing chain that processing a single file may require 50 – 100 key clicks on multiple programs, and the repeated manual re-typing of hundreds … nay… thousands of file names from one program to another.
Multiply this by a couple hundred files a month and you get buried with “clicking and entering” very quickly. You also get buried with the sheer number of big files which overwhelm your ability to store and retrieve data. So you or your team of expensive experts are painfully stringing together a set of incompatible commercial products to access and use data from non-integrated county, state, or federal websites into a Rube Goldberg contraption to squeeze out information by the ounce at $125K per year, which was initially advertized to you as FREE. Not a good user adoption scenario and very unsatisfactory.
The reason I can describe this process is because I lived it. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. You don’t want this T-shirt.
The reality is that the true cost of Ag data usage is currently way too high, using it takes too much time, and spending time and money on this data diverts resources from actual proven production practices. So it is not used. The data is all there, but you can’t get to it in an easy practical manner, and that is why all the information required to make your life better (in Ag) is essentially unavailable to you. No one stops you from getting it … you make the business and quality of life decision not to get it.
Keep in mind that the county, state, and federal groups creating the information and making it available online are making herculean efforts and doing “God’s work”. It takes them millions of hours to assemble the data and make it available online. Think of the work required to create SoilWeb. It is amazing that the data exists. Think of the work to create Landsat data. That is true rocket science. Think of the USGS topograpic data, the California CIMIS weather station network, The Integrated Pest Management sites, the USDA crop phenology sites, etc. The fact that all this data even exists is amazing. And the people producing it are champions. They have to deal with the government bureaucracy from the inside to make anything available to the public. We have to salute them. But they are limited in resources themselves and do not have the resources to take it the next step. They get it to the door … someone else has to pick it up and assemble it into actionable information. Someone in the commercial space needs to step in and knit these un-integrated resources together into an easy solution. It is a gigantic job. That is what we at Agralogics are doing.
Our company mission is to attack, capture and subdue every hard data problem in agriculture so that the end user can avoid all the pain, and we can provide easy, effective, and affordable information solutions to the ag community at all levels of the ecosystem. We are investing in domain experts and automated software to aggregate all the data available and required to support ag production management, and provide it to you in one location. Where the county, growers association, water district, university, state agency, and federal agencies leave off we will pick up and will turn that data into information to drive management actions in the field and the office. Our goal is to create a resource and platform for all ag data and provide the capability to perform analytics on these data to solve problems and inform decision making. To do this we will combine plant agronomy, meteorology, hydrology, geology, production science, soil science, irrigation science, remote sensing, geographic information systems, advanced “Big Data” databases, cultural practices, ag business practices, and data analytics to provide the user with all the information required to understand the issues, weigh the choices and offer a simple set of options with which to gain satisfaction. We will integrate these data sets into proven predictive models for monitoring/managing agricultural practices (irrigation, fertilization, etc.) to provide real time support to day to day farm management.