filling in the gap in technology development for agriculture

(Bart Doorneweert) #1

#The opportunity
There are so many agriculture technology projects out there. Momentum is building to propel the farmer forward into the 21st century of technology use. Yet, while ambitions are big, and the budgets are accordingly high, farmers are not yet buying into the digital age of farming.

One of the recurring problems is that agriculture technology tends to get designed for the possibilities that technology can offer, but it generally doesn’t meet farmers at the level of use and understanding where they currently are. This disconnect with the learning curve that the farmer still has to traverse, is causing a barrier for adoption of technology solutions. was founded by Anne Bruinsma, to take on this specific problem. aims to create a much needed human-centered force in technology design for farmers, by organizing small and dedicated on-farm hackathons, addressing topics that the hosting farmer is concerned with specifically. challenges design and technology related talent to come up with practical solutions for acute on-farm problems.

#Common goal – how will it make a difference?
Through these challenges, aims to reveal the relevant design patterns for technology solution design. This is pulling in interest from development firms, and from organizations that support technology development in agriculture, like the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) is starting off in Holland with the intent of developing a self-propagating hackathon framework, that will spread on-farm hackathons throughout the world.

#Organisation goals
Farmhack wants to increase the likelihood that the hackathon challenges will turn into viable solutions, that are able to spread. It aims to support projects to develop further, through pulling in support from development houses, other agribusiness stakeholders as sponsors, and entrepreneurship education for the teams that have worked on the hack initially.

Source Institute is dedicated to developing, timely, relevant, and accessible education to even the most challenging environments. Source’s designs for self-propagating education can be integrated into the FarmHack concept.

#Strategic relevance
Data, and technology in agriculture are currently mostly underutilized.’s mission is to lay the groundwork for designing technology for agriculture, making the case for en open, ecosystem-based innovation approach (much like Code for America does for the US government). Stakeholders involved in developing technology solutions for farmers can learn first hand how technology can be designed to fit the needs and requirements of farmers.

At Source Institute, we see this as a very relevant early-stage development feeding ground for (notably hardware) technology advancement and entrepreneurship in the agriculture sector. Source can help establish FarmHack’s model, and help it spread, for instance by introducing it to our work on hardware startup acceleration, and network on the African continent.

#Resources is a non-profit initiative, running at-cost in its first iteration.

FarmHack has received a subsidy, and sponsorships to cover the costs for organizing a series of 4 hackathons. As such, Source is also an in-kind sponsor to this initiative

The Hackathons will be organized in June 2016. And the winners of each hackathon will be supported until October, where they will pitch their progress during the Agri meets Design at the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven. In July, Source will provide a bootcamp, and some remote check-ins after to mentor on progress.

People needed
Bart is going to host the bootcamp. A position for a volunteer from Source fellows is still open.
Both the volunteer and Bart will provide the remote follow-up, through check-in calls, and the Source community forum.


  • 4 hacks, which have developed a strong business viability
  • A design for self-propagating education material, that can be distributed with the hackathon package
  • New linkages for FarmHack to Source’s global entrepreneurship communities

Farmhack have found 4 challenging farmers, which will result in 4 decentralised hackathons, with 3 dedicated teams working on each one. A mobile unit will contructed to bring the required techinfrastructure to the farm locations.

Winning 4 teams will be offered a 1-day bootcamp and some mentoring after. The contestant will have a pitching final during Agri Meets Design at the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven.

About the FarmHack category
(Josh Liu) #2

@bart sorry for dropping the ball on this one. Yes, definitely love to see how to help. Want to have a call on this? It seems a great opportunity for a Source Summit, mixing agriculture people, data people and hardware people.

(Robin) #3

Hey @bart , I really really love the idea of this. Actually might be interested to participate myself ( just for fun :smiley: ) . Anyhow, I will not be around in July hence I will not be able to help on ground.

I could promote online, I know quite some people who will be interested in this.

You could maybe ask Wilbret to get involved ( Foodblogger ).

(Bart Doorneweert) #4

No problem @Uniquejosh. The hackathons are going to be in June July, and we come in after that to help out the 4 winning teams. The idea is to do a bootcamp in Aug for a day, and maybe some remote coaching after. I like your idea of the unconference. We could do a mix of startup principles, and top it up with some fixer session work. Shall we call this week to see how we could link this to the IoT initiative in Manchester?

@robin would you have possibilities to help out in Aug for the bootcamp?

(Robin) #5

Yes @bart , August works much better.

Do you have an exact day in mind?

At the moment 5th & 6th / 18th - 22th I’m not available otherwise I’m game.

(Bart Doorneweert) #6

How about Fri Aug 26, @robin?

(Robin) #7

Bart its in the calendar :wink: - so I’m in :-p

(Bart Doorneweert) #8

I joined the 2nd FarmHack as a participant this last weekend. I worked on an application that enables farmers to intervene in the (currently) automated planning system for variable rate treatments of crops. Farmers can use their own common sense about biomass patterns in their crop (due to seeding errors, or variations in the soil) to alter automated prescriptions for treatment.

By default the analytics would increase support to these weaker spots to better support crops. But the farmer knows that those interventions won’t give any results. By manually indicating these zones on a plot, the farmer can save money on input application.

It was really cool to have the farmer present during the hack. That kept it effectively centred around applicability, and most of the hacks delivered were working prototypes. One team even got to trial their code on a tractor that went out to spray a field. This was a team from a software development firm for agriculture. They had never worked in this close collaboration with a farmer, and they want to do more of it!

Big take-aways for me are the following:

  1. Overall crappy UX design is a barrier to tech adoption in agriculture. Most new machinery has the capability for variable rate application with GPS. However most farmers don’t use the tech because they need to fiddle around with USB sticks, put the wrong files in the wrong folders, etc. They try it 2 times, and then just give up on the tech.
  2. software firms are making picks & shovels solutions, and charging farmers for each tool, and tweaks to tools, separately. They’re not looking at providing an overall experience and solution to the farmer though. This is also a cause for irritation with farmers. They’re being billed left and right for incremental solutions, when instead they want solutions that just help them to do a proper job
  3. though there is a lot of tech euphoria about precision agriculture, and the possibilities for further development, the business case is still very weak. The narrative revolves around costs savings on inputs, but there is no evidence yet whether more precisely distributing inputs to where they are needed will actually deliver the same/better income results for farmers (better yields/better prices). There are ore variables at play! Somebody still needs to discover the value proposition that will cause farmers to become enthusiastic for the potential of technology.

Concluding, I think that FarmHacks are really useful for making these constraints apparent, and playing around with solutions that can actually address them. As I said before, the solutions developed are really human-centered, and are given a merciless reality check, because everything takes place on the farm, where stuff has to be put to work.

(Salim Virani) #9

Sounds like a big win! Something that can be built on. What are the next steps? Also, is this something worth writing up as a short report so others can apply your lessons learned?

(Bart Doorneweert) #10

We’re going to do an unconference on challenges and lessons learned with the winning teams from the current 4 FarmHacks in August. Also, we’ll be inviting outside participants to listen in, and share their experiences. That will be an opportunity to put together the insights. I’ll be sure to do a write-up on that.

In terms of growth of the FarmHack, I was thinking of linking it up with our network at the Africa Prize at a certain point. I can really see the added value of that!

(Robin) #11

Hey Bart, thanks for this writeup. Sounds super interesting.

Here a small anecdote concerning business model;

One of my uncles stepped down eight years ago from being a wine - farmer. In his village there were 36 wine farmers who were growing year after year on litters produced and sales generated. Even though he was a quite descent farmer his actual area of expertise was ‘Machines’. Every year a quarter of his income was generated with in a couple of weeks by him driving and lending machinery to other farmers in the village.

He changed his life; by crowdsourcing ( from 36 farmers ) money (by selling subscriptions to service and drive heavy machinery) to buy machinery everyone needs , useat least once every year, are absolutely dependent on.

Grape - Harvester