Opinion

Agri suppliers should be more IT ‘aware’

I’ve attended a host of farm machinery and technology demonstrations recently, all of which had a strong IT (Information Technology) dimension.

The latest of these was the first run-out of the new Keenan vertical tub feeder in Northern Ireland. However, a significant portion of the event was taken up with a presentation on the company’s InTouch nutrition system.

And, no doubt, it’s potentially fantastic. But I stood there wondering; how many farmers have access to the sort of stable, robust internet connection that this technology needs to actually work?

The other more fundamental question is: How many of the attending farmers actually grasped the nuances of cloud computing and the apparent benefits it brings?

Don’t get me wrong: I am not taking a swipe at Keenan. The same principle holds when it comes to making real sense of (or getting value from) the IT features and systems built into many new tractors and equipment.

It can be done. Possibly the best examples of modern technology being integrated into the farming world can be seen within the dairy sector, where the likes of robotic milkers and heat detection systems can converse with everyday smart-phones.

However, there is strong evidence to show that people of a certain age – let’s say 45 and over – have been left behind by the digital revolution, particularly where all-singing, all-dancing smart-phones are concerned.

This week has seen the ‘Which?’ organisation in the UK publish a bespoke guide to new digital technology, specifically compiled as an education resource for middle-aged people. And, let’s not forget, this is the cohort of rural society most likely to be making the major investment decisions on Irish farms.

I regard myself as a reasonably well-educated guy – definitely over 50. But I genuinely feel left out when it comes to getting to grips with my smart-phone and the undoubted power of an ‘app’.

The digital revolution is with us; it’s here to stay and evolve further. However, as a matter of principle, I think that Irish machinery and service businesses should offer real and appropriate training opportunities to farmers – to drive the best use from IT-laden systems that are now coming onto the market with incessant regularity.

In fact, there should be an onus on the supplier to ensure that farmer-customers have continuing and straightforward access to the training back-up needed – until such time as both parties are satisfied that the farmer is wholly conversant with the technology he or she has actually paid for.