How can Agtech help Agronomists?

Kaye Hope
Kaye Hope
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In conversation with Rebecca Dumbrell, Agronomist from TGT Tolga, Australia

We interviewed Rebecca Dumbrell for her thoughts on Agtech and how it supports her work in the field. Dumbrell has worked as an agronomist in both NSW and QLD after graduating from Charles Sturt University. Her experience spans horticulture, broadacre, plant and soil nutrition, soil science and soil health. She is passionate about supporting growers balance yield optimization with the long-term sustainability of farm practices and understands the importance of having a credible dataset to use as your ground truth.

The challenge for many growing teams, however, is that the dataset isn’t nicely aggregated in one shareable format but more often split across a collection of notebooks, spreadsheets and aging databases. Add to that any human error which may have occurred when transcribing data from a notebook to the computer or misread hand-writing. Even in today’s cloud connected world,  the average farm struggles to capture and maintain a quality dataset for agronomists like Dumbrell to use in her daily work.

What is the most important service you provide growers?

Dumbrell: The role of an agronomist is vast, and depending on the grower, specific duties vary. My role entails the collection of data and observations, then analysis what I find to draw conclusions for on farm decision making. Such as pest and disease thresholds in the field or analysing leaf and soil tests to develop nutrient plans. Keeping this in mind the most important service I provide is clear communication with my clients. My job as an agronomist is to add value to that grower’s business. If we do not clearly communicate our findings week to week this not only has negative effects on agronomist-grower rapport but also will not benefit that producer in terms of the overall success of their season.

What do you need to best support your growers?

Dumbrell: The more information about that grower’s farm we have as advisors, the better equipped we are to provide the correct information and come to the most optimal conclusions. For example, the grower who is able to show consultants flowering history, weather data, yield maps, pest/disease report histories, past fertilizer programs etc., is starting far ahead of those who don’t keep these records. Data is very valuable in this industry and can significantly aid in trouble shooting on farm problems and optimising yields.

The agronomy world is constantly changing and evolving. As consultants and advisors, we are required to stay up to date with current events and advancements that affect the agricultural industry and ways our clients can benefit or will be affected by those changes. Knowledge accumulation is very important and the communication of that knowledge from us to our clients is equally as important. 

How do you imagine advisors/consultants and growers will collaborate in the future?

Dumbrell: When it comes to challenges facing the Australian agricultural industry knowledge is power. I would hope that the sharing of information to benefit entire industries will become common practice in the future, and the streamlining of this information will allow access for growers and advisors. If a wider pool of data is available, more conclusions can be drawn therefore research and development is more likely to be aimed at the right areas. Which will in turn benefit producers and consultants as well as the industry as a whole.

I see this being a big part of collaboration between advisors and growers in the future. Fine-tuning farm practices through trials and testing, and the sharing of those results and data to benefit the industry as a whole. 

What advantages do you think Agtech can have for advisors and growers?

Dumbrell: I see Agtech having multiple benefits for advisors and producers. The most obvious being data collection. In the last few years, growers are required to keep more and more records in order to operate their businesses. I’ve seen this go from scribblings on a piece of paper shoved in a folder, to excel spreadsheets and now to programs where that data is entered via an app straight from their phones in real time. 

Rebecca Dumbrell quote
Programs such as Farmable that allow the collection of yield data block by block, backed by a comprehensive history of that block’s season from post-harvest through to picking, are incredibly valuable. As we know there are so many variables throughout a season, so the more information we are armed with once we have those total yield numbers the easier we can conclude where we had a win or a loss and adapt appropriately. 

As agronomists it is our job to record that data, so programs that allow us to do so in real time throughout a whole season will be invaluable in allowing us to better service our clients. From a business perspective programs such as Farmable add a lot of value to what we do day to day as agronomists. It is that next step up in communication with growers, where they are able to see a scout history, photos and relevant comments on nutrition and recommendations in real time. This highlights the effort we put in for our clients which results in increased loyalty and an overall benefit to our business. 

In regards to the fresh fruit export market, programs that allow this level of data collection are extremely valuable. More countries we export to are requiring mandatory monitoring, trapping, insecticide history due to MRL requirements, etc. This process can all be made a lot easier with a tool that confines this information to one place rather than 5 different spreadsheets. Saving time and allowing for an accurate assessment when that data is needed before exporting. 

Farmable is a fantastic tool for keeping up to date with on farm trails. As we know trials can start with the best of intentions but get lost in the hustle. With programs such as farmable photos from treated blocks/rows can be recorded, relevant flowering or fruit set comparisons and at the end of the season yield data can be measured to assess if the trial was fiscally beneficial or not. Whether or not these trials are run over one or multiple seasons it is a great tool to assess effectiveness of new chemistries, biological products, fertilizer programs, etc.

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Kaye Hope
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.