How I got started in small-scale farm tech..

It all started when my parents returned to farming 10 years ago, suddenly they had 8000 olive trees to keep track of and it wasn’t going well. There was just too much to remember, we’d water/prune trees all week but still hundreds were dying around us – we just weren’t able to give all the trees the individual attention they needed. We tried keeping track on paper and even expensive handsets but neither setup lasted more than 3 months, they wasted more time than they saved. In the end we were totally devastated when we found a blown over tree, black and ravaged by ants, all because we had forgotten to replace the stake…

Abby pruning...

Abby pruning…

It was at this point that I started to work with my dad to build our own solution, it just made sense because I have a background in making software. So we bought some RFID* tags online and put them on each tree, then we created an app on my dad’s smartphone with a few big buttons that allow you to scan the RFID tag and enter the latest about a tree.  Importantly, no internet is required for it all to work…the phones just sync when you get back to the Wifi in the office. Now, every day my dad just prints out a work order of all the trees that need attention that day and thankfully there are no more unloved trees!

From there, we also worked with our neighbours who have a blueberry farm to develop this system for other uses, with the same technology they can easily pay their workers a bonus based on what they pick. They give each worker an RFID tag which the harvest manager scans on her smartphone whenever a picker brings in a tray of grapes or blueberries so they know how much each worker picked.

Our system is born out of simplicity and our own very practical needs out in the field, we’ve realised it can be use in many different ways by different farmers as a simple recording device for trees, sectors, people or even sheep! If you think this may be useful in some way on your farm then do get in touch, we’d love to hear your ideas as we are currently looking for more test farms in the UK (as we are still testing the app is free!). 

*RFID tag is an ID tag that your phone can read wirelessly within a certain distance (it does not need an internet connection), contactless payment cards are RFID cards and work in exactly the same way.

As part of the learning we’ve also realised that many farmers don’t have time to find out about smart new tools, which is why we have started this monthly newsletter with a few tools we’ve come across that could benefit smaller-scale farmers in all parts of the farm: be that distribution, on-farm energy generation, weather reporting or even interesting marketing ideas. Tune in each month on indiefarmer or sign up to get it direct to your inbox here.

Join the movement of small-scale farmers using smart & sustainable ways to produce and sell food.

Our aim is that at least one of these tools will be interesting or useful to you in your smaller-scale farming pursuits and if you have any suggestions or something we should put on here then please do send it our way here. You can also read more about our harvest helper app, our simple simple way to track whats going on in your fields, our favourite weather station and our solar pumping solutions. Read more about who we are more generally on tech.vidacycle.com

Food Assembly  – a series of farmers markets run by local people where everything is pre-bought online so the farmer/grower knows exactly what they need to harvest.

Food Assembly

The setup means that the farmer gets 83.3% of the amount they sell, the people running the local food assembly get 8.35% and then The Food Assembly website gets 8.35%. It seems to be a very effective model that works well for both the buyer and grower because the weekly assembly markets still provide an opportunity to meet in person and build up trust and rapport between the people growing and eating the food. As a farmer/grower all you need to do is add information about what you will have available to buy each week onto the Food Assembly shop and then turn up with the pre-ordered goods at the weekly Food Assembly market. This model has been working for a while in France and is becoming more and more popular in the UK. You can find out more here.

Farmhack  – a worldwide community of farmers that build and modify our own tools

Farm Hack Screenshot

Farm Hack Website

Farmhack.org is a great online resource with many different ideas for tools from farmers across the world including moveable landworkers’ cabins, root washers and DIY animal weighing scales, there really is all sorts on there. Often the ideas are incredibly resourceful and perfect alternatives for smaller scale farmers. Everything on there is ‘open-source’ which means that you can see all the documentation of how it was made and therefore easily make it yourself, or sometimes people sell the final product as well if you don’t want to make it yourself. It is also a great community to be part of, organising regular meetups between farmers, and often technologists, to share ideas and work together.

 iLevel  – easily monitor your tank levels remotely so you never run out of water, fuel etc

iLevel tool for farmers

iLevel can be hooked up to measure the level of any type of liquid in a tank. It then reports back the information to an app on your computer or phone so you can easily see when you may be running low, or if there is a problem. We can see it would be useful on our farm in Chile because we are constantly monitoring the levels of our water tanks.