Andrew Francis, Senior Farms Manager at Elveden Farms, was looking for a way to track produce from field to store electronically to replace paper records. When he heard Abby Schlageter of tech.vidacycle pitch in the Start-Up Showcase at REAP 2015 – he knew he had found a potential solution.
The idea for the SectorMentor app came about when Schlageter’s family returned to farming ten years ago, and they found themselves having to keep track of over 8,000 olive trees in the Loncomilla Valley in Chile.
With only two to three people working in the fields each day, they started experiencing problems right away, as Abby explains: “There was just too much to remember. We found ourselves dealing with severe frost damage of a few hundred young trees where they lost their leaves every spring. It was impossible to know whether it was a few weak trees we needed to replant or a more fundamental issue. We realised we were unable to give all the trees the individual attention they needed.”
After trying to monitor the trees’ health and status on paper and through the use of expensive handsets, Schlageter decided to look to her software background and develop a solution.
“We bought some RFID tags online and put them on each tree. We then created an app with a few big buttons that allow you to scan the RFID tag and enter the latest information for the tree.
“Now we can print out a work order every day of all the trees that need attention. We can also see which trees have repeatedly had problems with frost or disease, allowing us to take action and replant those that die back every year.”
This idea would become SectorMentor, a phone app that allows farmers to record and manage daily care for each sector or plant as well as their yields year-on-year. The system builds up a complete history of crops so farmers can track what works best in the long run.
After perfecting the software at their olive farm, the tech.vidacycle team are now preparing to make it available to many more farms. They have provided solutions for neighbouring small-scale farms in Chile, and Schlageter is currently travelling around the UK in order to better understand the needs of the UK farmer. This has resulted in an exciting collaboration with Elveden Farms, as Andrew Francis (pictured left) explains:
“Whilst the development application of RFID tags was of little direct comparison, it stimulated ideas as to how else the technology could be applied. After a few meetings and conversations we are now developing use of electronic tracking to record volumes of produce from a field and record it directly to a store via a hand held system, which rules out the need for paper record sheets in sheds.”
Schlageter comments: “At the weighbridge, workers can easily enter the weight of a load, the field of origin and variety, and its store destination by simply scanning an RFID tag and inputting the information. The management team will be able to see this log in real time, and can pick up on any inconsistencies or potential errors.”
Along with the work at Elveden Estate and Farms, which will start in July, the SectorMentor app will be used this season at a winery and a sheep farm, both located in East Sussex. “We are very keen to work with farmers to develop the system, rather than trying to predict what they really want, so updates and changes will come into action pretty soon.”
Schlageter and the tech.vidacycle team are currently working to find a pricing model that ensures long term business viability but also works to bring further prosperity to farmers. A second goal is to ensure that the technology is simple enough so that farmers themselves feel confident dealing with any problems that come up.
Schlageter says: “It is important to us that we keep the tools as simple as possible, and provide a pricing structure that supports smaller-scale farmers so they too have an opportunity to flourish.”