Posted June 22nd, 2017 by Nicki Stewart
This month, Microsoft Dynamics NAV customer, Camgrain, held a series of Open Days for their members, suppliers and those interested in the service that they provide to the agricultural industry. As we’re always interested in understanding our customers’ industry challenges, I was pleased to attend.
The event showcased the services and investment Camgrain offers its members and added value through industry insights. Camgrain is based on a co-operative model, providing farmers with storage facilities that help them maximise the revenue for their crops. The facilities combine technology (how best to maintain the crop, assess quality, provide treatment services etc) with logistics (optimising the supply chain route from farm to factory / mill). The investment includes state of the art facilities, strategically located and software (Microsoft Dynamics NAV, of course!) to automate processes and drive efficiencies.
For UK farmers, gaining efficiency in the supply chain is only part of the challenge. Agri-economist Sean Rickard was one of the guest speakers and provided insight into global trends and his thoughts on the challenges for UK farmers. More than ever, technology has an important role to play. Traditionally technology and science has been concerned with improving yield and reducing cost. Rickard talked about the need for “precision farming”. This has two key elements: establishing value chains focused on partnership (the farmers should not carry all the risk!) and the focus on a quality proposition.
The UK agricultural industry cannot compete on cost in the global market: the US and Australians will always win when it comes to scale (we simply don’t have sufficient land). Technology ranging from solid ERP to driverless tractors help drive down cost, but going forward, that’s not as important as the quality proposition. To get there, farmers need to focus on data: how it is captured, how it is analysed and how it can be automated. This is where the Internet of Things (IoT) moves from geek past-time to business benefit; whether that’s Fitbits measuring livestock (seriously, it supports animal husbandry) to analysis of crops, weather, production environment and biotech.
A great example of this shift in considering the end-product, rather than mere quantity at lowest cost, is the Oil Seed Rape (OSR) crushing facility investment from RCMA at Camgrain’s Stratford facility. This facility has re-engineered the process of OSR crushing with the quality of output in mind. It has also been constructed to be self-sustaining. The change in processing means that the output results in higher quality by-product (animal feed) to the extent that the edible oil is now the smaller contributor to the enterprise. This is no accident, the data driven consideration was based on protein % in feed-cake that provides the cows with the protein required to produce quality milk, at a fraction of the cost of traditional soy cake. This is a lot of information that may or may not mean much to the lay person; the point to note is that none of this happened by accident.
Our roots are in ERP with a more recent emphasis on digital revolution, disruption and IoT. For the agricultural industry, as with many others, the efficient-process challenge has been understood and met (if not now, then clear understanding of the undertaking); the next stage in digital revolution is very much on how smart processes can support quality outcomes.
At Columbus, we like to boast of the “farm to fork” processes we enable through our customers (from Camgrain to Weetabix!). It is awe-inspiring to consider the part smart tech will have in supporting farmers to ensure we keep a growing global population well-fed with ever decreasing resources.