Life on the land in Australia


IS information highway technology making agriculture more profitable? Carl Sudholz doesn’t think so.

That’s not because agriculture can’t use good information, the software developer and doctoral student says, but because “most agricultural information systems are in fact quite useless, and even more are hard to use”.

Relatively few farmers use farm management software. Only about 15 per cent of grain growers report regularly using industry-specific software, a figure that hasn’t changed much since the 1980s

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And grain growers are one of the most technology-friendly groups of farmers.

Mr Sudholz has a theory about this. “I have come to believe that farmers do not use agricultural software because quite simply, the software is just not worth using.

He grew up in a Horsham, Victoria, mixed farming family, was a software developer with the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, and is now in the early stages of a PhD in information systems development.

This career path led him to the conclusion that farm software isn’t doing the job it should.
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“The hype of ag information systems greatly exceeds their performance, and that’s been the case since the 1970s,” he said.

“Farmers are right to be skeptical adopters of agricultural software.”

As evidence, he points to the scarcity of commercially viable ag information systems.

Agriculture software houses, he observed, are small private or government concerns that have either been unable to generate the cashflow to fully develop their product, or in the case of government projects, had their funding yanked before the project could be fully realised.

“If these products were really as good as the salesmen say they are, adoption would be much higher than it is and there would be a John Deere or Bayer CropScience of agricultural information systems,” Mr Sudholz said.

“The reality is that adoption is low, and there is no such multi-national corporation.”

He thinks that’s partly because of a disconnect between how farmers work and the information that software systems provide them.

Software should be useful and easy to use. In Mr Sudholz’s opinion, the packages available to farmers have so far failed at one or both of these criteria.
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On one hand, farm software can be impenetrably complex. Few farm offices, he believes, ever use more than a small fraction of their software’s power.

And the records made by software don’t necessarily speak to the farmer’s experience.

“By keeping records in software, you get very precise information on things like cost structures, yields and inputs,” he said.

“But in farming, the nature of day-to-day decision making is fuzzy. You’re always adjusting to deal with things like weather, pests or changing prices. There is a big overhead in keeping digital records, but very often the imprecise nature of farm decision making means that investment can’t work for you.
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“A simple Excel spreadsheet or handwritten journal will serve most farm management decisions equally well, and these tools are far easier to use, less expensive and more reliable.”

That’s not to say Mr Sudholz is against farm information systems. Far from it – he thinks agriculture-specific software is vital to meeting the sustainability challenges of the next few decades.

But he thinks the future rests less in the “everything but the kitchen sink” information systems, and more with the sort of software that is creating the mobile data revolution – apps that do “one thing well”.

The apps that top sales for smartphones and tablets, like Instagram or Twitter, need few, if any, instructions. They work intuitively, but are powerful within their limited scope.

Mr Sudholz thinks the future of ag information systems will be an ecosystem of independent, tightly focused apps that freely slice and share information in ways that enhance and benefit farm decision-making.


In Mr Sudholz’s vision, the budgeting app will just do budgets; the paddock mapping app will just map paddocks.

He is putting his money where his mouth is.

He recently resigned from the Victorian DPI to establish his own software development businesses, agContext and Fast Task Tools, and self-fund his PhD with Charles Sturt University.

His doctorate will attempt to put his ideas into practice, with part of the program dedicated to developing a commercially viable farm planning software application.

Mr Sudholz blogs about “A paradigm shift in agricultural info-systems development” at www.csudholz.net and runs his own software development business, agContext.

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February 9th, 2013
Topic: COMPUTERS IT, TECHNOLOGY Tags: , , , , , , ,

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