Giving us a fascinating global perspective on the importance of data, the challenges and the benefits for the livestock industry, host Helen Brookes is joined by Emma Buckby and Nicole Buckley-Biggs from CIEL Member Agriwebb.
Music by AudioCoffee from Pixabay
Helen Brookes, CIEL 0.06
Welcome, and hello to this CIEL Insights Podcast with me Helen Brooks. I'm one of the Business Development Managers here at CIEL and I'm really pleased to be bringing you this data discussions podcast. Keep a watch out for other podcasts in this series and a number of blogs from a range of CIEL Member contributors that we'll be releasing from this week onwards. For all Members listening, you will now have received an invite to the Member exclusive data discussion webinar taking place on the 4 October and we really hope you can join us for that event.
So, data discussion is the theme of the podcast, so let's talk data. The use of data in agriculture and more specifically within Livestock varies from farm to farm, as I'm sure we're all aware. So how can we drive data use on farm? how can data be used to enable farmer goals associated with improving profitability and efficiency, reducing costs and increasing product yield and value? In essence, how can farmers make better decisions through data driven choices?
With no farming business being the same, and an increasing need for information to fit in line with what each farmer needs. What opportunities, services and tools are there for farmers? And how do they use them to fit in with their farming system, their contracts and their differing physical and environmental features of each farm?
In this podcast, we'll be discussing some of the data challenges and hurdles facing the livestock industry, we'll be talking to Emma Buckby and Nicole Buckley-Biggs form CIEL Member Agriwebb to see how they are helping and how Agriwebb is helping to address some of these issues. So we're really pleased to have Emma and Nicole with us.
Emma is a sheep and cattle farmer and is the Head of Marketing for Agriwebb, and Nicole is the Head of Sustainability in the sustainability programme for Agriwebb and across their international role which covers Australia, UK and the US. So welcome to both of you.
Would you be able to just give us a quick overview of Agriwebb for any any listeners that haven't come across the company before.
Emma Buckby, Agriwebb 2.14
So it's a livestock business management software. It's there to help you look after your whole farm and really the focus has always been on sheep and cattle. But it's not just record keeping we try to go beyond record keeping. So you could also look at your grazing insights for example, treatment records, fertiliser inventories, etc. So that enables you to connect all of the dots on your farming operation and thus you can start to understand your productivity, efficiency, sustainability rates and also the cost of production. Those insights enable you to then make interesting and hopefully really positive decisions as to how you can move your business forward, and make your operation better for you and hopefully for the community as well.
Helen Brookes, CIEL 3.05
Fantastic. So if it's okay, I'll start with a few questions and hopefully we'll be able to hear more about Agriwebb and the tools and services that you provide as we go through. So in terms of when you're talking to your customers and your farm audience, what sort of challenges are you really hearing about sort of what are those regular things that come up time and time again, talking about data collection day to use and data sharing.
Emma Buckby, Agriwebb 3.30
So I could probably answer this one as well. I'm speaking from personal experience because this is why we also decided to implement Agriwebb on our farm, the things that we hear from farmers and I guess most farms can recognise that the paper and pen has been the mainstay of data collection in the past, especially within the livestock industry. It feels convenient, you can just take it out on top pockets, write something down, and it feels like you've you've done your job. But that comes with challenges. This is something that farmers recognise and we hear a lot that farmers say 'yeah, we need to start doing this digitally' so they recognise that there's that need and there's lots of reasons why it can be a challenge. This is as much for farmers as it is for the supply chain as well, so it can be hard to identify the required records when needed. If you've got years and years of record sitting in lots of files, to have to go and look through all of those can can be really time consuming when actually some some easy search functionality could just bring it up on your phone for example. Writing in notebooks often means writing at least once or twice you're writing it on this this notebook and if it's anything like our farm is probably covered in goodness knows what so you then got to bring it back into the office and write it up again. So that can lead to human error. You can't read the writing, for example, especially if it's somebody else doing the writing up.
It can mean difficulties in compliance, which is definitely in the UK much more of a challenge than in say other countries. And I'm guessing that's not going to disappear anytime soon. If anything, it's probably going to be a heavier burden in the future. It can be errors as well when different people are collecting the data in different ways. So a good example of that is body condition scores or way records that are done by eye rather than actually done on a set of scales, for example, and there's lots of anecdotes of people, saying they know exactly what that cow, that sheep weighs and then actually weighing it and being out, it's always a bit of a surprise. There's also challenges around what's not being clear about what's being collected until much later on. So it's sometimes hard to see areas that you might have missed, which means that your productivity can't be optimised as quickly as you might have done if you're unable to see some of those anomalies. Relying on paper and pen means it can be hard to join those those records together so you can't bring pieces of Insights and see a trend for example or see any issues. So that can be challenging.
Where improvements can be made, if you think about digitised collection data on the other hand, it just means it's much easier to share that data with advisors vets nutritionists, etc. and also serves towards succession planning. So that kind of visible way of data is really really good but getting it can be really, really hard. And of course, like I mentioned for supply chains, for example processors, it can be reporting to them is also inconsistent and not congruent, and it doesn't enable visibility for their supply chain as well. So just a few of the areas where we're actually we can probably be more efficient in our in our data collection.
Helen Brookes, CIEL 6.42
Yeah, I do. I think that that area of sort of data accuracy and gaps is a real key one and almost that replication of data, you know, just doing it once gives you you're here and now but doing it many, many times and repeating it and doing it the same way. It gives you that opportunity to, as you say, be more connective share and highlight any inconsistencies as you do that over time. Nic, anything to feed into that one, maybe from a worldwide perspective any any other areas that you think, you know, are like yeah, I see this across the world or actually, this is quite UK specific. And there are other issues across the across the globe.
Nicole Buckley-Biggs, Agriwebb 7.22
No, I think there's it's very much at an international issue and opportunity as well. I think from my perspective, farmers are some of our leading researchers around sustainability in that they're constantly experimenting and trying new approaches. And we need streamlined, easy to use ways of tracking those experiments that farmers are doing month to month, year to year to really understand for specific regions or specific types of operations, what's going to improve soil health and fertility, what's going to improve profitability, productivity, all of these things that have implications for climate action for conservation. But, you know, we need to allow or enable farmers to really try those things on their on their own properties and see what works. It varies hugely from operation to operation. You might try 10 Different perennials, right and it works differently for different farms and with different types of livestock.
So to really be able to track that implementation of that practice that sustainability practice and then connect it to daily live weight gain, fertility rates, you know, weaning rates, all of those different kinds of outcomes that Agriwebb allows you to track and as Em said, connecting those two types of data together to see where your management practices are having an environmental impact or an economic impact. I think that's really the key, whether you're in Australia or on a ranch in Colorado or in the UK. And that's, that's a similar challenge and opportunity. We all have,
Helen Brookes, CIEL 8.50
I suppose thinking about that sustainability sort of topic and that theme. Where have you seen some of those light bulb moments with the use of some of Agriwebb's services or just in terms of data where it's been, you know, those main drivers that farmers have really gone? Yeah, I can see how this can help. I can see how this can help me I can see how I can use it within my business.
Nicole Buckley-Biggs, Agriwebb 9.11
One of the key things is grazing management and to the extent that grazing management can help you to manage your feed costs, I think at the base of any operations success is its economic viability in the long term. And you know, we are really focused on helping producers to manage their their feed costs if both preventing over utilisation of grass and under utilisation, so making sure that you're actually using the forage that you have while preventing over grazing so that you have long term sustainability in your operation that has we are seeing that that's helping our customers to reduce the need to buy hay, which can be very expensive depending on the region you're in, and the market that you're competing and you might be competing with equestrians, for instance, to buy hay and that's, you know, really driving prices up. So in the US one of our ranchers saved $80,000 in one year just by using Agriwebb to improve their forage utilisation. That doesn't mean over grazing it just means making use of particularly the more remote parts of of that operation to improve their overall usage.
So I'm excited for that aspect and hopeful that the more people engage with different grazing systems and track them in Agriwebb, the better they can manage those costs associated with feed.
Helen Brookes, CIEL 10.30
So can I maybe ask both of you for sort of three top tips that Emma maybe that you regularly sort of use in messaging throughout Agriwebb and Nic, that you use with those people that you do work with from a farming perspective. So the three top tips on you know, getting the best out of your data collection and use.
Emma Buckby, Agriwebb 10.50
So I think some top tips from my side would be keep it simple. And so if you're using technology for the first time, or you're transitioning to a kind of more modern piece of software, it can be a little bit mind blowing sometimes to decide what to track because there are so many different KPIs that you can track so many different metrics. So definitely keeping it simple.
So for example, you might just want to start off by concentrating on feed and inventory around feed and what you're giving and maybe you want to experiment within that. So for example, feeding red clover over Lucerne, for example and see seeing what the the outputs from that are. Or you might just want to start with daily daily weight gain. And it's amazing how many farmers we talk to that don't regularly weigh their livestock and yet we know that from regularly weighing on livestock, we have lots of positive things that come out of that.
So as Nic was mentioning, better, productive animals because they're better looked after the feed rations are also monitored accordingly as a result, which can help save money. really important can help save in terms of emissions as well because we could effectively have quicker finishing times as well. So there's lots of things there so it's definitely start simple. And then add add to the kind of what you're looking at as you go that'd be my My top tip. I don't know about you, Nic.
Nicole Buckley-Biggs, Agriwebb 12.14
I think from my side you know people often ask me, Should I get involved in a carbon related programme? Should I try to pursue biodiversity credits? How do I plug into a branded sustainable kind of premium programme that a grocery chain or a meat company might be offering? And I think a lot of those opportunities are emerging right now. It's a very exciting time for the industry. And for any of those programmes, it requires digitization, it requires that whoever's running the programme really get a view down to the farm level of what's happening and have this kind of high quality data that we've been talking about. So regardless of what avenue or what direction that a farmer might end up pursuing, they're going to need to track their management practices, their stocking rates, these kinds of details in some digital form. So I think the first thing to do is, you know, today pick up some kind of Digital 21st century software, an app an easy to use programme that can help you to do that. And just it's a learning process, but it's not a terribly complicated one.
I think it's one that you know, 15 years ago was hard to imagine we'd all be using smartphones the way that we do and I think in the same way just you know, do it one step at a time. With Agriwebb we have an Academy online that people can kind of walk through and even if you've been using it for five or 10 years, there's still more features to learn. So kind of getting on that journey, I think is the first thing that that people can do today. Regardless of what programme they'll end up plugging into down the road that might help them improve profitability and sustainability.
Helen Brookes, CIEL 13.42
Yeah, both really both really good points and really well made. Thank you, and just picking up on on your point, Nick, about sort of new skills and the learning journey. Where do you think that balance is between farmers needing new skills to engage with technology, software, etc. And actually, how data solutions can be produced to better fit with farmer needs.
Nicole Buckley-Biggs, Agriwebb 14.07
I don't necessarily see the skill hurdle as being a very big one for producers. I think they already have the skills really that they need. It's taking the time to try new practices to track them and to then start to delve into the insights that software can provide around how daily live weight gain is being impacted or how other outcomes are being impacted. And, and it does take a bit of time to sit down at your computer and look at the bar chart and see how a certain practice you've implemented is impacting your operation. But I think the solutions are there. They're definitely on the software side being improved on every day. So for instance, at Agriwebb, we're always building new integrations with different types of software that's becoming available that can help people with their management. So for instance, remote sensing from satellite imagery that can provide estimates of above ground biomass or how much grass how much forage you have in a given paddock. And those have traditionally been estimated with, you know, people's eyes and different generations estimated differently even within a family might have very different estimates. So you know, now for the first time we can really have much more accurate estimates of how much grass a farmer has and what they will have into the coming months. And I think that can be transformative. So that's not necessarily a new skill or approach that's needed is just a new type of data that could be used to improve decision making.
Helen Brookes, CIEL 15.36
Yeah, these are really good, really good point that actually it's not all new technology requires new skills. Maybe it's just another way of thinking about the approach to collect the data needed. I think that's a really good point. And that leads quite nicely into the next sort of point I was going to make on obviously, there has been quite a sharp rise in digital technology and, tools that have hit the market in recent years. How has that AgriWebb really looked at engaging farmers in the tools and services that you deliver and making sure that it's fit across obviously, you mentioned sheep and beef. So looking at to livestock sectors, but also the various systems and and even the, you know, Farmer mindset and how that differs. So how do the Agriwebb Services fit with a multitude of opportunities?
Emma Buckby, Agriwebb 16.27
I think to start with one of our values is really for the farmer. So that's, that's number one and we are constantly engaging with with our farming community and getting feedback but more importantly, our founders have got livestock agricultural background, so I think, you know, they recognise the need as much as anybody else. So I think that's really important. We do have an understanding there. And quite a number of our community within in our AgriWebb colleagues are kind of from a from a farming background. So we are aware of kind of the challenges at ground level at grassroots level as much as anything else. And it is always our our wants to understand those bombs needs and also understand how we can make data collection as easy as possible and how we can make insights as useful as possible. So farmers can make those informed decisions and we offer various forums where, where farmers can plug into that. So for example, on our website and ideas portal where people can, can add ideas, we get feedback all the time through through the various other communication channels as well. And we hit things at events, but also always tried to kind of keep abreast of what's happening in the industry. So we can be aware of what's coming up for example, changes between tagging in cattle for example. So how can we be prepared for that and make sure farmers also feel supported. So we are trying to plug it all the time and as I mentioned, kind of, we have so many colleagues that also are kind of farmers as well as AgriWebb colleagues that that hopefully that that can really help make us aware and empathise with the challenges that the farmers are facing.
Helen Brookes, CIEL 18.10
And in terms of the systems that you use and your engagement with the farmers, what have there been any real key sort of changes on farm that you've seen from farmers engaging with Agriwebb tools and services because you know, change is a constant in farming and have you seen any real change that Agriwebb tools and systems have sort of led to on farm?
Emma Buckby, Agriwebb 18.32
I think one of the key things is confidence in decision making. We hear this time and time again. So we start with I don't do technology, which is a really common thing that we hear from farmers, which we know isn't necessarily true because most people have mobile phones. There's technology in tractor cabs, for example that we've become used to them over years. Even in your everyday car nowadays. There's lots of technology so we're interacting with it all the time. So I think it's to take a farmer from that to be confident in decision making and one of our farmer customers up in sterlingshire recently talked to us about their flock of 350 hours that they had. And by using Agriwebb, they decided to call 42% of those ewes because they weren't productive. That is a huge decision to make. You have to be super confident to do that. But they realised through using Agriwebb and those insights that if they got rid of the less productive sheep that they will be cutting down on feeds, they could be more focused on the productivity and welfare of the ones that are left, and that would actually give them a better better margin at the end of it. That then enabled them to to invest in further technology, which means makes them even more efficient. So I think it's that confidence piece that can really help. I don't know if you'd add to that, Nic.
Nicole Buckley-Biggs, Agriwebb 19.53
I think that was brilliantly put and I think you captured it perfectly.
Helen Brookes, CIEL 19.59
Are there any specifics from the sustainability side Nic, that you would sort of think is really being transformative in terms of data use.
Nicole Buckley-Biggs, Agriwebb 20.10
I think one of the big developments and it's not just Agriwebb, I think it's the whole industry moving in this direction is the integrations we've developed with hardware and software. So even something like an ear tag reader or you know, all these data that producers are capturing shoot side or crush side that are related to individual animal health and weight gain and sustainability at the end of the day if we're trying to capture things like methane emissions, right? Being able to connect those data points with the genetics the breeding information related to that individual, the health records and as Em said to then be able to make decisions around calling around where to purchase animals in the future you know, where are you getting the most productive individuals from and and really having those those insights. Other integrations that may be are more pertinent to larger operations are those in an arid areas but you know, water monitoring devices, for instance, pieces of hardware that farmers are already investing in. That they can plug into software like Agriwebb or other types of software like financial software and be able to see all of those data points in one place. Just like your bank account can pull in information from different sources to give you a full picture and give you a sense of your budget and where you might be able to make an impact. Same kind of solution I think applies here where increasingly we have you know, internet of things in our personal lives and in our work lives and just kind of following that trend. I think over the next year or two, we'll see a lot of great developments in that space.
Helen Brookes, CIEL 21.43
Really love that analogy of the banking that has become so normal to everyone, and actually, it's a great analogy to use to think about where you pull all that information from and use within one app or one website. That type of thing.
Nicole Buckley-Biggs, Agriwebb 21.57
Just to add to that, where you push information to right? Because we also end up connecting our bank accounts with our employers and other places. In the same way producers should be able to push their data as you know they own and manage their data, but they should be able to share it with not just advisors but also other stakeholders in the supply chain that are looking for data in order to reward producers for for sustainability improvements in their supply chain.
Helen Brookes, CIEL 22.22
So where do you think this is possibly a big endless question with a with a massive silver bullet at the end of it but where do you think CIEL and its Members can really help to support exactly what you've just said there, Nic about the connectivity, the sharing of data, the pulling of data as well as the pushing of data, and how can that the network that CIEL provides really helped to drive product development and innovation for better data use.
Emma Buckby, Agriwebb 22.54
I think it's really interesting because we've got to improve farming. We know that so in the UK, obviously, especially in England, subsidy payments are disappearing. And that's gonna make us really focus on as farmers how we manage our business. So I think that's kind of number one. So how can we support farmers to be able to do thatand really putting concrete there for the legacy for the future and feel supported. So I think there's one part there that we all share within the CIEL network and also I think by joining CIEL it kind of gives Agriweb at the opportunity to share its ability to collect and analyse data as well as its knowledge from the UK we've got a knowledge around farmers behaviours in Australia in the US and that insight, like unique insight into those behaviours of farmers across the world can can help us understand the commonalities that we all have as well as the differences and some of those challenges that are faced as well. So and when it comes to sustainability for example, this helps us understand what we can do at global scale. And what is better for more regionalised stratum as well. And I think it's going back to what we were talking about around that kind of connecting that that ecosystem creating something that's going to make life so much easier for farmers. So where can we plug in different parts of technology that can give farmers an even better insight and a better look at the big picture as well.
Helen Brookes, CIEL 24.24
Brilliant. We've covered so much in this conversation. I've made a few notes as we've gone on. We've talked about grazing management and soil fertility. We've talked about body condition scoring, inputs, economics, feeding, weighing, identity, genetics, health, and it just goes to show the absolutely the breadth of data use within within the farming system. Is there anything else that you think is is really sort of a key point of Agriwebb or a key point of data use and utilisation that you'd like to leave the listeners with? Just to sort of think about and potentially engage with you in a future aspect
Nicole Buckley-Biggs, Agriwebb 25.10
from a climate perspective, I think it's important to note, but a big challenge we have ahead of us, whether it's the UK's net zero by 2050, or partners and Members in the CIEL network that have commitments to sourcing away from net zero carbon firms by 2030. Or 2040. That is an unprecedented challenge that we have and we don't have all the answers today. I have a lot of faith and optimism for the kinds of collaborative initiatives that are happening now that are bringing together academia and the private sector and conservation groups to try to tackle some of these big questions. How do we improve grassland management and how do we improve genetics? How do we improve herd efficiency? These are very big questions. Some solutions are there ready to be adopted and scaled and others are being tested today and I think the more rapidly we can do that and deploy it and and really engage producers and that process the better we'll we'll be along in this journey but I think it'll definitely be a village required to
to tackle this challenge that we have of climate action in the next decade.
Helen Brookes, CIEL 26.21
Any last points from yourself Emma?
Emma Buckby, Agriwebb 26.24
only that, I think the more we embrace data, and maybe it's not data that we just focus on, maybe it's the insights that we need to focus on, right? So it's what that data collection gives us because it can feel like a chore it can feel like we're just adding data for data's sake. But actually, it's it's those insights and I think it's those, those real moments of Epiphany where you start to look at some of the insights and you see anomalies and you realise actually the reason that that's there is because of dry conditions this year. So how can I take those dry conditions this year in farming and make sure that I'm doing my utmost to to ensure a really good year next year, and those that do to those data points are going to prove that or not next year? So I think it's I think it's those insights that are really important and can be the really exciting parts of that data collection as well.
Helen Brookes, CIEL 27.13
It's been a really good conversation. Thank you so much Emma and Nic, for your time. Really great to hear about AgriWebb, you know the the involvement and the opportunities that it provides for the farming audience and the and the industry as a whole. So, for those listening, please remember to follow CIEL on Twitter and LinkedIn or check out CIElivestock.co.uk. For more CIEL Insights on data that we're going to be releasing this week and over the coming weeks. And if you are a CIEL Member, don't forget to register for the data discussion webinar on the fourth of October. But for me, Nicc and Emma, thanks very much for listening. Bye bye