Evaluation of commercially available farm management software programs for the vegetable industry
Australian vegetable growers are adopting new farm management practices and technologies and adjusting the scale, mix and scope of their operations in response to seasonal and market conditions. To be viable for the future, increasing numbers of vegetable growing businesses will be multifaceted, growing more than one crop to spread risk in an ever changing environment. Profitability is vital for sustainability, demanding a higher need for real time information. The impact of recent advances in computer technology on farm management is expanding with the adoption of new technology practices a continuous process which occurs through a number of pathways such as software programs, mobile apps, telematics, agricultural drones, crop sensors, cloud based platforms and even social media. As new technology options emerge, vegetable growers will need to be progressively agile to leverage its potential. As a result of this project, a list of farm management software programs was compiled which vegetable growers can use to identify the most appropriate tool, from crop management through to social media, to purchase for their business that will meet their farm management needs. Whilst there are a range of benefits in employing farm management software programs, such as integrated data collection in real time, increased farm performance, a systematic approach to management and improved forecasting ability, a number of barriers are evident. Limited access to high speed broadband and/or equivalent technologies in regional and remote areas is a significant business constraint. The Australian government must maintain a priority focus to invest and deliver services in key growing areas to enable the sector to be competitive. Further industry training and case studies for mainstream vegetable growers and agribusinesses is required so that they understand the capabilities of new technology and the best methods of adoption. In particular, vegetable growers should be more aware of how to use social media, including the benefits of using and harnessing it as an innovative method for connecting with consumers and marketing of produce. Due to the lack of scale in regional and remote areas, the Australian government should provide new funding for vegetable growers to access customized and contextualized training to improve technology adoption and facilitate practice change. Peak industry bodies are a key mechanism to promote awareness and adoption of emerging horticultural technologies that are shaping new production methods and business approaches. As well as industry conferences (such as the annual AusVeg conference) the vegetable industry would benefit by increasing awareness and/or attendance of peak industry representatives and/or growers at emerging technology events such as Mobile Tech. Government and industry have invested in a number of studies (including this one) to provide vegetable growers with a comprehensive list of programs available for use. Given the speed of technology innovation and new products entering the market, this list needs to have an industry custodian to review and update information so that it remains current and relevant – maintaining its value to industry.