The innovation process in agricultural engineering is not effective. Some incredible new technologies never reach the innovation level. What should be done?
Hannu E. S. Haapala
I started to tackle this problem a couple of years ago. In early 1990’s I worked as a young researcher of the Finnish Academy of Sciences to develop sustainable agricultural engineering. I had an innovative research group of young researchers in my group in the University of Helsinki who worked almost 24-7 on the subject. Satellite navigation was tested and simulation models were built to vision the future ‘Position-dependent control of plant production’, later named as Precision Farming. The sky was the limit for ideas. As I had my dissertation in 1995, Precision Agriculture (including also livestock) was seen as an inevitable future.
But what has happened? Only parts of PF or PA have penetrated the markets. The holistic vision of PA as a system is not yet, twenty years later, realised!
OK, I must admit that some great development has been happening. Field navigation and semi-autonomous vehicles with drive assist systems have been quite successful in the markets. In countries with large fields and wide implements, this has been justified both for economy and ergonomics. However, the actual operations such as fertilization and seeding have not been automated as predicted. Integrated Farm Management Information Systems are not there, yet. The vision of ‘GPS-controlled farm’ is still far from reality.
Now, I have to stress that I mean on the markets, in practise. Research projects and prototypes exist. Coming back to my research team, the ‘Star Group’ (yes, that was our nickname), in 1992 we already had a fully operational GPS-controlled combined drill, operating according to a soil sample based plan. We visioned that it would take some years to produce a reliable and easy-to-use system that could be bought from the shelf of almost any local agricultural machinery dealer…
Then I decided to do something about the situation. In 1996, I moved to lead research in MTT Agrifood Research Finland where I started to build new research priorities together with new researchers. A new topic of system acceptability was introduced. We did some research on it and kept a couple of scientific presentations in conferences of CIOSTA, ASABE, AgEng, etc. Our finding was that maybe there is something wrong with the usability of new technologies. New technologies did not fit well for their potential users. In principle, the technology was operational but not in practical life. It needed too much attention, was too hard to learn and to remember, it did not give the user the needed feedback, nor was it reliable enough, etc. Consequently, the new technology did not build trust in itself. The users got bad experiences and stopped buying it. Users did not utilise new technologies, and then – there were no innovations.
As working as an OECD Research Fellow in 2011-2012, I prepared a questionnaire for interested individuals who want to give their opinions, experiences and visions on my research topic ‘how to speed up innovation in agriculture?’. I also reviewed selected experts on the topic.
The results have been reported in several conference papers and oral presentations. I have also brought the subject into the attention of planners of EU research and development programs.
I will publicize my thoughts and reports on these Agrinnotech pages, hoping that the speed of innovation in agriculture will grow through my operations.
With Innovative Regards,
Hannu E. S. Haapala