Graincast™ is a mobile application that uses national weather and soils information to forecast soil moisture and yield for grain crops.
CSIRO is using a multidisciplinary approach comprising social, economic, biophysical, analytical, remote sensing, user experience and software engineering components to build digital outputs for Australian agriculture. New crop modelling architectures have been developed with satellite information. Soil grids have been created with a multitude of data-layers and climate surfaces are being generated with the next generation of climate forecasting models. These frameworks have been constructed to deliver information about crops at the paddock, farm, regional and national scales
We went across southern Australia to chat to growers about their thoughts on digital information, technology, computers, data, usability and sources of information. The objective of the conversations was to identify the issues that farmers considered important, and discover how they would like information packaged for them. The survey was not exhaustive, but was considered instructive as it provided the team with an insight into what useful packages could be produced for farmers with today’s technology.
It was no surprise that farmers wanted information packaged in a highly accessible manner. They did not wish to spend time at a computer, had a preference for accessing relevant information while driving around the paddock. Farmers expressed an interest in all the topics discussed, but in the first instance, we decided to focus on producing outputs about plant available soil water, historical yield potential and the current yield forecast. These pieces of information were operationally tractable from a software engineering perspective.
In five short days we harnessed our cross disciplinary advantage to build an app to deliver information about crop yield and plant available water in real time to a farmer on a mobile device. A team of software engineers, user experience, legal, social, biophysical and crop modelling backgrounds convened and followed the Google Venture methodology to discuss every page and aspect of the app. The user experience team then constructed this app and it was evaluated by four growers. As we engaged with growers we pivoted twice by redesigning and adapting the product in response to user feedback.
Through the contextual inquiry we conducted with farmers in rural Australia, and conversations with farmers testing our first prototypes, we've learnt that farmers are eager to try new technologies and tools that can increase their productivity and help them make better decisions, mainly regarding what grain to sow in each paddock and when. Not surprisingly, we've also learnt that farmers prefer being outdoors over sitting in front of the computer, and that they expect tools to "work straight from the box", without long set-ups and excessive data input. We've set a goal to create a farmer-friendly mobile-first web application, that requires minimal input from farmers (what they sowed the previous year), and provides them with focused, legible data (daily soil moisture and annual crop predictions), that can help them make more informed decisions about their farm's management.