Monday, 19 November 2018


And, no, if you’re concerned at that statement, this is not about genetically modified potatoes or anything as off-the-wall as that – it is simply acknowledging the fact that the computer age is moving into farming, writes Andre Erasmus.

I know that is ‘old hat’ to some folk, but a walk around the impressive BP2015 potato show in Harrogate, Yorkshire, last week showed just how widespread the advance of technology into the once-staid domain of agriculture actually is.

From tractors controlled by on-board computer software with automatic satellite navigation systems and equipment that can automatically harvest, clean and sort the crop, to potato storage facilities that can be monitored while the store manager reclines on his beach deckchair in the Bahamas, the industry has moved on in leaps and bounds.

A stroll around the stands at BP2015 – the premier British potato event which attracts visitors from around the globe, whether their interest is farming or processing, showed an amazing array of high-tech stuff. The kind of thing that computer geeks with checked sweaters and heavy glasses would probably appreciate more than a burley, sun-tanned farmer in his boots and work jeans.

But that’s the way the world is evolving. Many people – again from farmers to technical sales staff – were seen using their smartphones to set up appointments, check emails and so on.

In one stall, a man named Ray Andrews was showing how a computer can monitor a storage facility and send updates remotely to his mobile phone. Besides monitoring temperature and humidity changes, the computer could even tell when the store manager accessed the store, how long he was there and what changes he made in that time.

Known as SmartStor, the ‘potato store in your pocket’ is marketed by Crop Systems in Norfolk, this little gem can perform and monitor a multitude of tasks.

Andrews demonstrated to eager on-lookers how it can, for instance, monitor a single worker in the store (through a swipe-in and pre-set exit time); send alarms straight to the phone for things like power cuts, equipment faults or lights left on; provide a two-way information diary with multi-user input and offer 24/7 peace of mind for the store manager or farmer.

And equipment manufacturer Tong, for instance, makers of the Caretaker grading machine and other heavy stuff, were showing off  the company’s Auto-touch HMI Pro-Series  - a computer-based interface for the operator to monitor an entire machine and control it by the push of a button. It offers enhanced diagnostic capabilities so it can monitor potential faults and alert the operator before expensive damage could occur.

Computers were everywhere – on electronic sorting machines from Tomra to bag fillers, crop storage systems and heavy machinery.

As one man said while looking at a weighing machine on the Newtec exhibit with a computer screen to monitor performance: ‘My engineer won’t need spanners any more, just a few computer chips and his smart phone’.

The more staid farmers a few years back might have been resistant to the march of computers and technology into their domain but now they embrace it, knowing it does make life easier.

Some of us, however, still struggle to programme our TV recorders. Oh well … where’s that manual?


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