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Increase production with advanced technology

May 2017

Farmers in South Africa face but one major problem – to make a sustainable profit over a period of time. This is because of the so-called cost prize squeeze. Thus, it is a continuous battle to keep expenditures under control and to increase income.

Our farmers also face a challenge to provide enough food at reasonable prices to a growing population. Productive land does not become more, therefore production per unit must increase continuously to make a sustainable profit and to feed the nation. A way to increase income and reduce costs that is receiving a lot of attention lately is the use of advanced technology.

In practical terms, we see advanced technology as the use of some kind of advanced type of mechanical item (for instance an improved planter) that assists a farmer to produce more and better products. Certain apparatus such as a computer and a smartphone can also be seen as advanced technology. It has now also become a practice to add electronics like a GPS to these advanced items to improve their performance. This practice is then described as high tech farming or precision farming which we will discuss in a follow up article.

The purpose of using advanced technology is thus solely for the purposes to increase and improve production. However, it must be remembered, the use of technology can never replace management, let alone poor management. If you do not apply basic management principles such as proper record-keeping, the use of advanced technology will be of no use to you. A grain farmer must keep record of for instance rainfall, the size of his lands, plant population, plant depth, soil samples, soil profiles and production. The first step to proper management is to keep the necessary records of your business. Remember if you do not measure, you cannot manage.

An advanced planter with which you can control plant population and plant depth more accurately, will be of little use if you do not manage it properly – maintain it properly, use it as prescribed, and so forth.

To make a sustainable profit you must become more efficient from year to year. Without adequate, accurate data, this will be impossible. Management input is inversely related to a farmer’s financial input. This means the less effective the management of a farming operation, the greater the costs of the operation, and the lower the profit generated from the business.

The one major advantage of the use of advanced technology is therefore that production is increased through improved efficiency of actions. Some farmers have achieved an increase of 10% in production by using advanced technology. Another advantage is that you could save on labour thus saving on costs.

Experienced farmers have recorded a saving of 10% on input costs. But bear in mind that the use of advanced technology has its own costs, such as interest, possible higher maintenance costs, depreciation, and insurance, which must also be considered.

A further advantage of advanced technology is that it will enable you to complete an action or task in shorter time, more accurately and more efficiently, thus saving costs.

As far as disadvantages are concerned, the acquiring of advanced technology requires additional capital. Depending on the type of advanced technology you wish to acquire the additional capital outlay can be a large sum of money. Should you consider to borrow money to acquire the advanced technology, remember that you will have to pay interest on the borrowed funds. To use the advanced machinery also requires qualified staff at a higher cost. The advanced machinery could also bring about higher maintenance costs. When considering acquiring advanced technology a thorough analysis of the advantages compared to the disadvantages will be necessary. The only effective way to consider the purchasing of advanced technology is to compile a proper business plan – proper management.

As a first step to the use of advanced technology, we would recommend that you acquire a suitable computer – a normal PC is good enough, you do not need a laptop to start with. The reason for this recommendation is that you must get your basic management up to a high standard before using advanced technology. A computer will be of great assistance to your record keeping. You can record and save all your records on the computer and by using formulas interpret the data to useful information which you can use for proper management purposes. A computer linked to the internet facility can also enhance your communication with clients, suppliers, and others and can be used as a purposeful source of information regarding agriculture by using Google.

Farmers must deliver optimum production of high quality outputs on a continuous basis whilst minimising inputs, without damaging the environment. To achieve this, the use of advanced technology need to be considered thoroughly – it can be advantageous but will put pressure on your finances and management.

Article submitted by Marius Greyling, Pula Imvula contributor. For more information, send an email to mariusg@mcgacc.co.za..

Publication: May 2017

Section: Pula/Imvula