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Software for the Farming Industry of Tomorrow?

by Alain Sutre

Expert Editorial

The future of agriculture, and especially of viticulture, is being written in relative anonymity. The funds invested in the sector are increasing considerably but are still insufficient when considering the challenges of tomorrow. You simply need to study fundraising in Europe or North America to notice that the idea of agricultural software is very recent and that the funds invested are far lower than the needs of the digital industry. Robotization of farm work is still in its early stages; digital surveillance is slowly developing, mainly among field crops, but specialized crops such as grapes are still the poor cousin in the digital transformation that is taking over the world. However, societal challenges have never been as important for the farming sector and climate change will make the chore of farmers even more difficult. We should also ask ourselves which model of company we want to see in the future: « big farm » or a variety of technical and economic models working together? « The revolution that awaits our farmers will be greater than the XIXth century industrial revolution », according to Michael Porter, professor at Harvard Business School. This economist claims that the fight against autonomous hardware is already lost and that only a digital platform linked to connected objects will generate growth in the value chain, by also integrating decision support tools, simulation tools, or artificial intelligence. With that perspective, the use of business software takes a special place with developer visions that are still coming from the 2000’s. One thing is sure however: during the last 5 years the number of data captors of all kinds is booming. Projects like « IoF 2020 », supported by the European Union, encourage industries to work together around business cases, with the aim of preparing for the arrival of connected objects in the farming landscape.

It is indeed urgent to unify these tools and skills in order to meet the needs of the digital agricultural market.

I quote here the conclusion of worldwide specialists at the IOT conference in Paris last June: « do not follow the same course that we took in the 2000’s that brought about the failure of agricultural IT by proposing complex, ill-adapted and time-consuming solutions, without any added value for the user ». In 2018, the very low rate of software adoption by farmers is a good illustration of this failure.  And do not even mention the actual rate of use of these software solutions…

Automatic integration of maps linked to a decision support tool:

Software developers have to develop their products in order to address these major challenges. Traceability of processes or stock accountancy for regulatory purposes won’t be the growth lever for developers, it will be return on investment for the user: finally, good news for the farming sector!

1. When an ERP adds structure

The use of multiple software programs will disappear when there is a single digital ecosystem which responds to the user in tandem with the seasons and user needs. This is the concept of Enterprise Resource Planning software: an all-in-one solution that is connected, from all data gathering utilities, to a single platform, to the user. The platform must be able to connect all the users who contribute to the database via laptop or tablet or phone. This is the start of collective intelligence with regard to gathering data. Giving the work force responsibility for critical data gathering by connecting via their smartphones can increase their sense of responsibility and their commitment to their jobs. This also gives them essential information right in their pockets when they work alone and when time is precious. Geo-localized terminals give the workers access to only the information that the worker requires. Who had not looked in vain for information in a never-ending file where information is tucked away randomly in tables and charts?

The software of tomorrow will be capable of offering screens and information pertinent to defined criteria; it will analyze the work style of the user and propose screens according the workflow of the individual. The analysis of the fields used will be automatic and will help the user thanks to an algorithm integrated within the software. Over time the user will be offered choices that will enrich her experience and facilitate complete use of the software’s functions.

The ERP: a complete and fluid software solution

2. User comfort and added value will arise from automation and data exploitation by algorithms

It is the synthesis of automatically collected data that gives a system-wide vision to managers, thus the software becomes a veritable assistant in decision making, not simply a generator of data disconnected from other data. It is here that artificial intelligence enters to eliminate scenarios of using techniques that are bad for the environment or the bottom line of the enterprise, as well as ensuring work is done in a manner that follows procedures developed by management.

This type of software can be compared in principle, to a funnel that brings together the data to generate a number of solutions easily applied by the manager/supervisors on the field.

For example, Exapta, a Process2Wine module, conceives vineyard treatment programs under various constraints, by integrating more than 400 parameters to furnish recommendations that can be implemented by those in the field. A true digital ecosystem at the service of the grower.

Alain SutreExpert Editorial
by Alain Sutre, Owner and President of Ertus Consulting

Born in France and raised on his family’s vineyard, Alain Sutre studied agricultural engineering, and completed a Degree in Viticulture, Oenology and Economics in 1983. Following that, he completed an MBA from the University of Bordeaux in Management & Administration.

After many years in the wine industry as General Manager for prestigious Estates in Medoc, Alain became the Owner and President of Ertus Consulting in 2000, a consulting company for the wine industry and developer of Process2Wine, a vineyard and winery production management software. Process2Wine intends to become the heart of a digital ecosystem that will include predictive decision making tools with the goal of facilitating viticulture in response to the environment, and delivering efficiencies throughout the winemaking process.

Ertus Group has adopted a strategy that is resolutely pointed towards innovation. This has constituted more than 50% of our activity in the last two years. The modules of our software, Process2Wine, are a direct result of our experience in the fields of winemaking and viticulture. With more than 250 client estates, and a presence in Canada and the United States, we have a vision of the needs of the profession that impels us to create the best software solution to the industry.

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