Farming 2.0

Building online communities for the rural sector

In this final part of Computerworld's series on technological innovations shaping Australian farming, the founding director of Efficient Farming sheds light on how the concept of building an online community for the farming community was born.

Managing director of Efficient Farming, and sheep farmer John Warr had too much time on his hands during a dry season. When he was out on the tractor one day he came up with the concept of 'efarming', to provide a rich source of customisable news and information for farmers.

“There is a lot of information out there for farmers and to have everything in one spot is unique and never been done properly before,” Warr said.

Warr wants to see Western Australia-based Efficient Farming become the new preferred home page for farmers across Australia.

The site was designed especially for farmers, to help the agricultural industry across the country make informed decisions.

“We’re in the phase of making the information provided in the marketplace [for farmers] a lot better,” Warr said.

Warr and his team spent six months researching and collaborating on the idea before moving into the development phase of the project. The Web site went live in July 2008.

“The way we have designed the home page for [all the relevant links] to appear in one spot, has helped farmers navigate the Web site more easily and search the classifieds.”

Efficient Farming covers current weather services from Weatherzone, stock market reports and ASX stock Listings, new farming products, ABC News feeds, agricultural classifieds and information and data feeds from various government departments.

“Farmers are not that Internet savvy. But every morning they get up, check the weather and the market report, then again at lunch time the markets are checked, then at night another check of the weather. So we have incorporated this and other things like classifieds, an accommodation portal and community forum, plus other features that will interest members of the agricultural industry and their families,” Warr said.

The Efficient Farming Web site also features a unique farmers blog called “Over the Fence” where farmers can share their own information about how their season is going, and have the ability to view each other’s information.

“Over the Fence” allows farmers to map out their farm using Google Maps, adding information such as the farm name, size, annual rainfall, and percentage of crops sewn.

With this information in place, farmers can keep track of what is going on around them in surrounding properties, an initiative set to assist farmers business decisions.

“The simplicity of our Web site has helped the farming community become better educated about Web services and collaboration. ‘Over the Fence’ has so far had a good response, but obviously it is going to take time. The more farmers who participate, the more valuable the information will be,” Warr said.

Australia’s agricultural industry is continually growing, and it appears farmers are growing with it, constantly contributing to the technology that is improving their farming practices.

“The farmers have a very large input into the software development side of our programs. We have programmers working around the clock so each quarter we can roll out a new program with the latest innovations in it,” said director of business development at farming software company Practical Systems, Hugh Beattie.

Above all, the use of technology to boost farming practices boasts increased productivity.

Grain farmer Alan Umbers, manager of the Pathways to EMS project, agrees, saying the EMS project's grains database aides in better water management, nutrient management, vegetation, and improved greenhouse gas emissions.

“In the farming community if something is any good, it doesn’t take long for the word to get around,” adds Warr, who believes word-of-mouth is a powerful tool for technology uptake amongst farmers.

This is echoed by the creator of animal recognition technology Neal Finch, who says farmers are increasingly aware of technology and how to benefit from it.

“Obviously, there will be a school of thought that they won’t take anything new up, but there’s also a lot of farmers out there who are really interested in anything new that is going to save them time and money.”

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