B.C. farmers beat ploughshares into tablets

It’s taken about 10,000 years, but farmers finally have access to iPads and business analytics tools to help them increase production.
But whether it’s figuring out the best harvest times, how much milk a given cow can produce, or how many eggs will hatch, farming has always been about business analytics, in a sense. What’s changed is that farmers are now using better technology to do it.
Case in point: The B.C. Egg Marketing Board has begun using IBM Cognos 10 with TM1 capabilities to enable around 130 farmers they serve, who produce more than 800 million eggs a year in the province, to predict their yields. Farmers can also use the IBM tools to compare data to that of their colleagues and determine unique characteristics of certain types of eggs (free range, for example).
Randy Friesen, who is manager of production and research at the B.C. Egg Marketing Board, is part of a team that does the on-the-ground work. They go out to farms with tablets, collect data and then send it back for analysis.
“We’ve always gathered information but we’ve had no way to push it back and share it with our clients,” he says. “So, what this allows us to do is for the client … or for the producer to take the information and make a comparative analysis against his fellow producers in different egg categories.”
Anne-Marie Butler, director of finance and administration at the B.C. Egg Marketing Board, said in previous years, the group’s legacy system was able to predict certain things, but required human intervention, and thus, was subject to human error. It just wasn’t working well enough.
“We thought we were going to go into a place where we would have what are called liquidated damages, which means we have thresholds we are not allowed to operate above in a rolling average for a 52-week period,” said Butler. “We were like chickens with our heads cut off.”
But with the new system, she says, there have been “cost savings on multiple fronts,” as well as significant time savings.
“Even our planning-budgeting cycle used to be a two-month cycle and now that we use the IBM TM1 to do that, it’s gone from a two-month cycle down to a two-week cycle.”
As well, she adds, the organization can now help farmers manage their inventory more effectively, keeping the appropriate levels of stock.

At IBM Corp., Mychelle Mollot, vice-president of worldwide marketing for IBM business analytics, says she finds it “fascinating” how such modern technology can improve ages-old industries like manufacturing.

“But this is a really unique example because they’re taking classic principles of supply and demand, planning, analysis, reporting and applying them to food distribution, and…food safety,” she says.
Another B.C. company using IBM business analytics is none other than the Canadian distributor of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, the Mark Anthony Group, which uses it for its supply-chain management, according to IBM.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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