Fast broadband a crucial tool
High speed broadband in more rural areas will increase productivity and profits on farms, according to dairy farmer co-operative Livestock Improvement Corporation.
The Government’s Rural Broadband Initiative is rolling out $285 million of infrastructure for more and faster broadband to rural areas over the next six years.
Much attention has been paid to how this will impact schools and hospitals but what about the farmers? Their businesses are, after all, the backbone of our economy but what’s the connection between farming, the internet, productivity and profit?
Rob Ford, LIC’s general manager of Farm Systems, said it was simple – information was power. ‘‘Real-time information is critical to the on-farm decision making process and high-speed broadband in more rural areas is key to that,’’ he said.
The co-op is taking a leading role in the Government’s plans, with Mr Ford an active member on their advisory board which provides advice and insight for how the plans can best meet the needs of the rural people it will affect most. For LIC, it’s farmers – their shareholders.
‘‘Farmers are collecting more and more data about their animals and their land every day, and the vast majority record this electronically.
‘‘They see their animals every day, they know their land and their pasture but it’s how they use this information that is most important because that’s how all the important decisions are made.
‘‘Access to their farm information, at the right time and the right place is imperative for making the right decisions and rural broadband is absolutely critical to that,’’ Mr Ford said.
LIC, with its head office located just out of Hamilton and more than 1500 staff in the peak season, is the market leader in farm information and automation solutions.
Its MINDA herd management system, for recording animal details and events on-farm such as calving, is used by the vast majority of dairy farmers. Protrack automation systems and drafting units have remained at the top of most farmer’s wish lists since it was released in 2003.
‘‘LIC probably has the highest internet contact rate with farmers in New Zealand
‘‘During the busy times of the year farmers will access their electronic MINDA records and sync with LIC via the internet at least once a day to send and receive updates but with slow speeds it can be quite a timeconsuming and trying process.’’
And for many farmers, use of these products to their full capacity has been compromised by their remote location and inadequate broadband access.
The availability of high-speed and wireless broadband to more rural areas of New Zealand would change this, Mr Ford said, and allow more farmers to use this technology on their farms.
‘‘It unlocks a world of potential that many farmers have never been able to consider, either because they cannot get the internet or they only have access to incredibly slow dial-up.
‘‘It’s one thing to have management information in the farm office – another when it’s delivered in the farm dairy or on the farm, where and when it’s needed.’’
Electronic recording and reporting is the way of the future for dairy farming and LIC’s Farm Systems team are constantly developing new products and fine tuning current ones.
With the rollout of broadband to more areas, many will be moved to the internet, providing a range of exciting benefits and improvement for farmers.
‘‘Gone are the days when farmers would be sent screeds of information in the post, which largely went unread and unused because it was simply too much, and would take too long.
‘‘Now and in the future with web hosting, farmers are presented with more enriched information, in a way that suits them so it is much easier to interpret, and use.
‘‘That will only get better with web hosting because the information farmers receive will be more real-time, with dramatically faster update speeds so information can be sent more regularly.
‘‘And they’ll be able to access that information from any computer with an internet connection, which is extremely valuable given how many different types of ownership structures we see on farms; there can be lots of people involved in the business.’’
LIC is also developing new additions to MINDA that will see it move from its current form as herd management software to a full farm management system – in line with the company’s vision of being an essential partner on farm and in food supply chains.
MINDA Milk is first and due for release soon. This new web-based farm information product will provide farmers with more enhanced information and data from their latest herd testing results.
‘‘MINDA Milk will allow our customers to see, at a very quick glance, which are their top performing cows and which they should consider culling.
‘‘These are the sort of important decisions that can be incredibly costly for a farmer, whether they mistakenly cull a top performer, or keep a low performer,’’ Mr Ford said.
MINDA Land & Feed is another webbased product on the horizon, which will allow farmers to record information that has, for many farmers, been kept in their head. ‘‘Farming is so much more than cows, and getting out and milking them morning and night. There are so many external and internal conditions that can affect productivity every day and they need to be factored into every decision. High-speed broadband is vital to the success of these products as we move farming into the future to ensure they are able to utilise them to their full potential,’’ he said.
Advisor: LIC’s general manager of Farm Systems, Rob Ford.