The farming problems the shared economy can solve


We live in an age of disruption. Middle man getting in the way? Just work around them. Whether it’s ride-sharing such as Uber, house rentals via Air BnB, or crowdfunding to make something happen, several established industries are in the midst of a I-can-do-it-myself revolution.

For highly competitive, highly regulated industries, such as taxis and hotels, the shared economy shift has spurred lawsuits and protests. But for others, it has created cost-saving opportunities and advantages — Skip the Dishes means that even a small-scale restaurant can better afford to offer take-out, as it’s a shared platform and delivery drivers work on an Uber-like system. Grocery stores now offer click-and-pick-up services, where we’ve outsourced ourselves, for a small fee, to an app and a grocery-getter.

Listen to more:  Online grocery shopping and railway backlogs on RealAg Radio

We’re in the midst of the very beginnings of cloud-based, one-app, shared technologies. What does it mean for agriculture and farming? The way I see it, and others agree, there are so very many areas where we could make big changes quickly.

For one, hauling. Specifically, grain back-hauls. What’s interesting to me about this is that both Western and Eastern Canada could benefit from this greatly, but for different reasons — the west has incredibly long delivery routes, making a back-haul that much more important; the east has oodles of smaller-scale farmers who need trucks at harvest but trucks are hard to come by. Both scenarios could use a ride-share type app to solve these issues.

Staying with transport, here’s a little dig on the railways — if Walmart can track a single item from origin, through its complicated networks of demand and logistics, all the way to a store shelf in small-town Canada, surely the railway could keep track of its railcars, volume, and cargo to better meet the (existing, non-surprising) demands of Canada’s grain farmers? I’ll just leave that one there.

Read & listen: Grain backlog growing as railways fall behind

What about custom spraying? Several cities have one-time, on-demand snow clearing services. Why not a Spray-My-Field app? Haying, combining, and planting are perhaps a harder sell, but where there’s a will to share equipment easily and efficiently, there could be an app for that.

Recently, an Ottawa area group had a “speed dating” night for landowners and potential land renters. The focus was for horticulture, largely, but the concept is the same. Why can’t we have a matchmaking app for land? We do have, a former Dragon’s Den contestant, but I’m talking something more local, and as easy as a swipe to connect.

And what about research? Many farmers lament that research is too general, too slow, too …science-y, if I may be so bold, as to be useful in the here and now. What’s more, some argue that our extension services are squeezed already — what if farmers just did the work themselves and shared the information between those involved? 

We live in an age of shared, cloud-based Google docs, GPS/RTK field mapping, and RFID tags on livestock. As farmers, we already have 90% of the tools at our disposal to DO something with our own data. Apps or interfaces aren’t that difficult to build, and funding is available to the individual, or, hey, interested parties could throw money in a pot and get going. Willingness to work together is the lynch pin to lock this down. A recent example of this already happening is the Ontario Soil Network, where cover-crop-curious farmers are connecting with the early adopters of the practice to get field-ready advice. (Read more on that here). 

Aside: I’m sure there are several existing examples already out there that I’ve missed, so if you know of any, please send them my way.

Farmers are problem solvers. They’re intelligent, tech and equipment savvy, and constantly have to adapt to new challenges. Until recently, farmers’ remoteness from each other has been a holdback to the collective going far together, but these tools now exist, as does the connectivity. Let’s be smart about it, own the problem, and leap-frog over those that would stand in the way.

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