USING the phrase "agtech that listens" may conjure up images of in-field listening sensors or voice activated robotics.
That's not quite the case though.
For Norwegian start-up, Farmable, that phrase is more about listening to what the users of its technology want.
Farmable is a farm management application which enables field operators and farm managers to track, monitor and record operations through mobile phones while generating a database of farm records to simplify reporting to authorities and marketing organisations.
The company is making moves to bring its technology to Australia, engaging with North Queensland mango, avocado and lime producer, Blue Sky Produce.
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The app is designed specifically for tree-crop farmers and the development team has a focused approach that sets it apart from the many farm management applications which are often built for broad-acre.
In preparation for the 2019 Australian season, Blue Sky Produce owner, Matt Fealy found Farmable's debut product, Farmable 1.0, online in August and started testing it out.
"I've been looking for a tool that fits my needs as an avocado grower, and so far, this is the closest thing I've found to be a perfect match,'' Mr Fealy said.
"Within minutes of using the app, I knew this was not just another broadacre farm management app with a horticulture bolt-on as an afterthought.
"The simple fact that immediately after mapping my fields, I was presented with settings such as tree spacing, variety, rootstock - all things that are important to perennial tree crops made me realise this app was the one."
His keenness to use the app was noticed by Farmable itself.
Farmable chief executive officer, Lars Blikom, said the company reaches out to every new user.
"When Matt Fealy joined, we jumped at the opportunity to engage him in our business," Mr Blikom said.
Mr Fealy volunteered to become one of 10 pilot users recruited by the team to capture feedback on Farmable 2.0, the next generation of the mobile app.
The pilot program spanned 10 commercial fruit farms from North Queensland to Tasmania and included a wide variety of crop types such as apples, mangoes, avocados, bananas and macadamia nuts.
Farmable 2.0 is a mobile app for iPhone and Android users with a desktop portal for planning and reporting workstreams.
The intent is to offer horticulture farmers a simple, user-friendly way to capture and organise their field data.
Initially, the product will allow users to map fields, take scouting notes (with GPS coordinates and images), document crop treatments and track harvest volumes back to the field level.
Mr Fealy tested the features of the new product during the pilot.
He started out by mapping 40 hectares of his farm on his mobile device.
By digitising his farm map, he set himself up to capture observations using the Farmable field note feature, to track the developments of his blocks.
Mr Fealy said his favourite feature was the ability to track the application of crop treatments in real-time.
During the pilot, he completed 10 spraying jobs using the app and tracked 350km.
Using the job feature, he was able to plan, prescribe and assign jobs, then track the application, and record and report, Alleviating the rising regulatory burdens of food production.
"I can see which workers are doing a great job, sticking to the correct speeds and not wasting time, chemicals and money," he said.
"It also makes things easier for the workers because it completely removes any misunderstanding about which fields to spray, at which rate and with which chemical.
While piloting, Mr Fealy collected a range of ideas and feedback that he forwarded to the Farmable team to further develop the product.
"I told the team immediately that I needed the app to work in landscape mode for my tablet, and it was done," he said.
"I then told them I wanted to display an average speed, total kilometres travelled, add measurements such as ml/100L, and it was done.
"I even asked to be able to configure different sprayer setups for different fields and different L/ha, and within days it was done.
"The responsiveness of the team really caught my attention."
During the pilot program, the team showcased its commitment to listening to its users and offered pilot users weekly releases of the app, integrating user feedback directly.
Mr Blikom said he was grateful and fortunate for all the feedback received by the team.
Mr Blikom himself is the co-owner of the fruit farm in Norway, which gave him an understanding of how precious user feedback was and how challenging it can be for growers to make time to try software that is still under-development.
"I started to look into the team behind Farmable, it was no surprise to find that the CEO and co-founder was himself, a tree crop farmer," Mr Fealy said.
"I joke that although Lars speaks Norwegian, and I speak English, we both speak 'trees'."
The Farmable team that grew out of Norwegian's largest fruit farm, which not unlike Blue Sky Produce, was looking for simple and pragmatic software to bridge the current gap between spreadsheets and robotics.
Farmable 2.0 was launched in Australia last month.
"Sure it's still early days, not everything has been implemented yet, but finally I feel like we have an app with foundations laid from the outset, for a fruit crop business," Mr Blikom said.
"Like pouring a slab on the orchard for a packing shed, not for grain silos."
In the coming months, Farmable will launch task delegation, weather system integration, time management and QR code tracking for harvest.
By April 2020, the team also plans to launch a complementary product for agronomists to improve the flow of information between growers and advisors.
"We have tremendous appreciation for the feedback we get from users. Insights from growers like Matt, give us a huge advantage in developing the right features first," Mr Blikom said.
Listening to both growers and their advisors is critical in developing a product for horticulture, Mr Fealy said.
He has committed to offering his support and advice to the tech startup beyond their initial pilot program.
"At the end of the day, you have to know that the team will listen to, and understand, your pain-points and value your ideas," Mr Fealy said.
"This is the only way to develop a product with true value, rather than just another slick website with lofty promises.
"The Farmable team has proven this already, I have no doubt that this is only the beginning."
- Copy supplied by Farmable.