The right information at the right time is crucial in decision-making in farming
In a farming environment, the information that you use today will show results of the decisions you made in six months, and being able to collect data and analyse it is crucial to making sure that you avoid making mistaken decisions. This is according to Rob Gunning, Group IT Manager at the Lona Group.
Gunning was speaking at the virtual VMWorld 2020 Sub-Saharan Africa Press briefing that took place on the 30 September. The press briefing was part of the VMWorld annual event.
Gunning was part of a roundtable discussion with VMWare executives Lorna Hardie, VMWare regional director of Sub-Saharan Africa (who also chaired the proceedings), Joe Baguley, VMWare VP and technology officer EMEA region, Mark Reynolds, VMWare commercial business executive, Sub-Saharan Africa, Ian Jansen van Rensburg, VMWare lead technologist and senior systems engineering manager Sub-Saharan Africa and Dave Funnell, VMWare Sub-Saharan Africa's senior cloud provider manager.
VMWare also brought customers to the roundtable who provided case study information to demonstrate how VMWare held up in real-life business situations.
The Lona Group is a large-scale agricultural group engaged in the farming, packaging, cooling, export and supply of fresh produce and branded and healthy foods with its head office in Cape Town South Africa, and operations nationwide.
The company partnered with First Technology in the Western Cape (in South Africa) to transform their technology environment to put a cloud-centric infrastructure in place that significantly improved the visibility and the management of its operations and remote sites.
John Gray, the ICT executive at the Lona Group, said that following the full modernisation of their ICT infrastructure, they now have full visibility of their farms at an orchard level.
“We can see bins harvested, the packhouse percentage of this harvest and align this to our targets. This is now automated on our VMWare platform.”
Another benefit, Gray added, is that in the past, they could only retain one year's data, but now they don't have to hunt for data and can create visual year-by-year comparisons.
Another positive impact of a cloud-centric infrastructure was that the ICT team was no longer stretched thin and overworked, Gunning said. “There was always an IT issue. Our IT team is very small, and they used to work almost 18 hour days just fixing problems. Now they can focus on planning for the future,” he said.
Gunning added that when South Africa went into lockdown and the South African government passed regulations on who could continue operations, the Lona Group as an agricultural entity was declared an essential service, so they did not close. “The platform gave us the launch to start working from home,” he said.
He added that cloud computing in agriculture is almost a blank canvass because most farmers were still using Excel to record their and maintain their data. Now there is a need to be able to monitor the farm remotely and for basic resources, and technology has come into play, he said.
Ian Jansen van Rensburg added that technology can play an important role in a farming business even if a big infrastructure change does not come into play yet. He cited the example of Seeds for Africa, which bills itself as Africa's provider of the most diverse online range of plant seeds, and accepts payments through Zapper, an integrated mobile payment solution.
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