We have more agricultural data than ever, but this crucial piece is missing

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Soil sensors. Pest management platforms. Irrigation monitors. Satellite images. Labor management. Performance forecasting tools. File sharing. And even social media management. As agricultural technology has proliferated in the last decade, the technology stack on the modern farm has gotten dizzying. For farmers tasked with growing and managing all this IT, that presents a growing challenge.

These tools, in general, do not communicate with each other. Platforms are not compatible and information is siled. In fact, one study found that 86% of agtech platforms do not effectively share and analyze fetched data.

Missing from all this technology is the ingredient that allows our phones to run smoothly. The same tool that turned computers from esoteric machines into devices that anyone could use with a few clicks. In other words, agriculture is in desperate need of an operating system.

Industry analysts gave up trying to count farm tech tools for years, but suffice it to say that the modern farmer has thousands of technologies at their disposal. And, increasingly, these technologies are table stakes rather than bells and whistles.

Weather extremes are making agriculture less predictable and increasingly risky. Input prices have skyrocketed with supply chain gaps and inflation. More than ever, producers must find efficiencies to stretch their resources and save time while facing pressure from regulators and food retailers to justify their actions.

This is the promise of so much agtech today: do more with less. But with so much on their plates, farmers need technology that is streamlined, easy to use and integrated, and a farm operating system can help.

Related: What matters most when opting for smart farming technology

So what is an operating system (OS)?

In technical terms, an operating system is the software that “schedules tasks, allocates storage, and presents a default interface to the user.” Familiar examples include Microsoft Windows, Google Android, and Apple’s iOS: without these technologies running in the background, other apps wouldn’t work.

But what we need for agriculture is more conceptual. We lack a central axis, a place where data is grouped and where digital tools are coordinated. After all, this is what iOS does for iPhone users. There are 3.6 million different apps that Apple users can seamlessly use on their phone, and it wouldn’t be possible without the iPhone’s operating system. iOS is the key intermediary between the user and the hardware, providing a common framework for communication and data exchange.

Consider the iPhone Health app: It can collect data from any app a user chooses to track things like sleep quality, heart rate, and the number of miles walked in a day. It integrates that information and provides a streamlined interface, displaying powerful new insights.

That kind of data exchange, usability, and compatibility between software and hardware is thanks to the operating system, and it’s the kind of integration that agtech desperately needs.

Related: Why Revolutionizing Agriculture Should Be The Next Space Race

What booting a farm OS looks like

Right now, farmers are spoiled for choice with a variety of apps and devices. But for these tools to work to their full potential, a foundation must be in place.

For users, an ideal farm operating system would be a one-stop shop for collecting and displaying farm vitals, from temperature to humidity levels and pest populations, and even labor and equipment availability. Equally important, an operating system would help farmers classify decision-making, providing data-backed information on what actions to take and when to take them.

Finally, an agricultural operating system would offer a unified interface for farmers to implement their technologies, from remotely activated irrigation and pest control to autonomous tractors.

Under the hood, what makes this system so effective is the data collection and sharing. A common farm operating system would also enable greater connectivity between data sources such as labor, equipment and performance, and would also speed up the development of new applications.

In agriculture, data is power. But while a ton of data is collected on farms every day, it is often siled within a particular app and not integrated with other programs that collect supplemental information.

A grower can capture data from their fields with a drone, for example, but there may not be a bridge to translate the visual data into actionable advice for applications. It is up to the farmer to do the analysis, obtain information and find solutions, adding work to their plate. A farm operating system would allow these technologies to work together and communicate their data to give farmers the answers they need.

Related: Key Agritech Trends to Expect in 2022

So how do we get there?

If the case for a centralized farm operating system seems clear, the realities of building one are more complex.

For starters, we are starting to see proprietary end-to-end crop and farm management platforms striving to bring diverse farming technologies together in a single hub. However, the problem is exactly that: these platforms are proprietary. They often integrate only a limited range of technology and tools. Going deeper still, some proprietary platforms push sales of chemical inputs, rather than putting farmers’ best interests first.

A better approach is a farm operating system specifically designed by an independent agricultural technology company. The ideal platform supports a full range of tools. It should provide cutting edge analysis but offer farmers a neutral and unbiased space. Finally, a true farm operating system must be robust enough to adapt to new technologies, yet simple enough for anyone to use.

Admittedly, this is easier said than done. But when done right, these systems become so valuable they almost go unnoticed.

What is clear is that this type of approach has the potential to transform agriculture. In a time of such uncertainty for farmers, an integrated operating system puts farmers back in the driver’s seat and allows them better visibility and control of their bottom line.

A robust operating system would usher in a new chapter for agriculture, bringing with it increased profitability for the farmer and sustainability for the environment. It’s time we build a foundation for agricultural technology that puts power back where it belongs: in the hands of land managers. That starts with a farm operating system.

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