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Innovative Tools to Improve Agriculture Efficiencies

By Bob Gilmore, Director IT, Cal-Maine Foods, Inc.

Innovative Tools to Improve Agriculture EfficienciesBob Gilmore, Director IT, Cal-Maine Foods, Inc.

Information is Power. With so many software tools available for each segment of agriculture it is now possible to manage, track, analyze and make decisions based on a variety of metrics. For example, a farmer can track and manage a farm’s effect on the environment using tools such as EnviroAg’s CAFOpro. This tool enables tracking and making proper decisions to be compliant with the EPA related to wastewater, runoff and standing water. It is a collection point for all of the data and documents necessary to insure compliance. Another software tool is Poultry Management Systems’ NOAH system. NOAH collects data regarding the environment and controls the amount of water and feed available for the laying hens. It also manages lighting and temperature to insure the best environment for laying hens. Using software tools to collect and analyze data enables those in the egg business to be better stewards of their most precious commodity, the laying hens that produce the eggs.

Utilizing virtualization combined with private cloud computing enables capacity to ramp up and down without having to pay for the peak capacity 100% of the time

ERP’s Impact on the Food and Beverage Sector

One of the major ways it can insure better efficiency is by providing information to verify the accuracy of product to meet the customers’ specifications and expectations. 

An example is using bar code scanning or RFID technology to identify the unique specifications of a product preventing warehouse personnel from picking product for orders that do not meet the customers’ specs.

Fostering Innovation

1. Think out of the box. 2. Immerse themselves in a search for the continual development of hardware and software even in totally unrelated industries that can be implemented to meet Food and Beverage manufacturers’ needs.

Remote Connectivity Fueling Efficiency

Monitoring tools for the control of environmental aspects and volume capacity can now leverage the internet’s communications for connectivity to a data source anywhere in the world. For example, a feed mill truck delivery driver using a program on an iPad can be assured he is delivering the correct feed to the correct feed bin on a farm if that feed bin has an iBeacon which communicate with the iPad when it is within range. Then it is possible to disable the ability of the driver to make the delivery if the iBeacon’s ID is not the correct one for the delivery. The programming and data for those functions can be anywhere that has a connection to the internet whether wireless or in a data center. The combination of iBeacon wireless technology used with tablet programming can control switches and relays on a truck to prevent the driver from making a mistake.

Virtualization and Cloud Technology to Help Adjust Computing Capacity

Utilizing virtualization and cloud technology enables a company to quickly ramp up and down computing capacity assets based on seasonal and other adjustment necessary to meet the changing needs of an agriculture environment. For example the load of an ERP system may depend on time of the month or seasonal demands. If a company owns their own computing environment they would have to equip it for those peak times. 

Utilizing virtualization combined with private cloud computing enables capacity to ramp up and down without having to pay for the peak capacity 100% of the time.

The Competitive Role of IT

We now see our role in IT as working with all areas of our business to provide a competitive edge in the marketplace. Whether developing tools to better analyze sales or the efficiency of our operations, we strive to learn and understand how better and more timely information can help the company’s bottom line.

Listening—the Key Skill to Design Better Management Tools

The best advice is to learn to listen. Listen to operations managers when they share their problems and successes. Then use the education received from listening and turn it into projects providing better management tools for those who are responsible for operations. Do the same for every area of the business, sales, finance, HR, etc.

On Going Challenges

One of the biggest challenges in today’s big government environment is compliance. A company can live or die by its management of compliance. Another area is food safety and this extends to bio security. The more tools a company can employ to track it products and ingredients the more likely they will be able to properly manage a bio security event. Bio terrorism is a big concern due to the vast amount of acreage that is used in farming operations.

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