Numbers tell a story on their own.
And the fact that over 220 attendees ponyed up at the Mobile Tech Summit 2013 in Wellington on August 7 & 8 underscores the message that our natural resources aren’t as old-hat as some would like to believe.
This new event is designed to showcase current and upcoming mobile innovations in New Zealand’s principle food and fibre sections.
In other words; the application of smartphones and mobile devices across our biological industries – which for all the movies made in New Zealand and talk of standalone digital businesses, still underpin our economy.
Indeed, it is the use of an increasingly wide range of digital tools to improve the production, quality, performance (and partly the consumer reaction/acceptance) of products of our land and sea that MTS2013 was clearly aimed at.
The physical, financial and environmental information and components that can be added right along the value-chain from pasture to plate, (or seedling to structure or fish to dish) is huge – and there’s no shortage of tech products for what is commonly known as decision support.
There was a wide range of speakers and different types of vendors – with, unsurprisingly, the start point for many being of the products on offer being a map; farm, forest, vineyard or sea.
The layers of information that can be applied to this spatial place range from soil type to irrigation history, fertiliser requirements to the crops and animal production that have come off a particular piece of dirt.
One challenge I’ve often observed is how these different dataset talk to each other, and how an individual actually makes money from being up with the tech play (beyond such information simply being a cool thing to be involved with).
However one of the underlying themes through the two days is how such silos of knowledge can interlink and interact so that better decisions can be made – even if many of the speakers acknowledged the difficulty of enabling meaningful collaboration between datasets.
The industry will get there; though one factor that will need to be overcome is demographic. Older farmers (and the average age of sheep and beef farmers is 58) mostly aren’t going to be interested in adopting the new mobile technology.
In that regard though, by the time those farmers retire, the different mobile apps and datasets will be much more integrated and provide a much more compelling logic and means to make more money.
Finally, a couple of points raised by speakers.
Mark Pawsey of SST Software (Australia) says that “pure cloud is a challenging environment for agriculture”. This is because, firstly, there’s a tonne of information that can be gleaned at one place and point in time from a piece of land. And, secondly, because wireless networks are comparatively underpowered in rural situations, (and devices such as iPads don’t have that much computing power), getting that data to the cloud to be processed is a trick in itself.
That said, Lukasz Zawilski, the Ministry of Primary Industries’ strategy and architecture manager reckons “mobility is really good at solving complex problems.”
The organisers of this event were no doubt delighted at the turnout, and made the closing comment to the effect they were happily surprised at the number who turned up.
This interface of real (products) and digital (data and intelligence) looks like it could be an opportunity to mine for the foreseeable future.