Digitalisation has changed the way farmers record, curate and receive data. But with business-critical information now online, how easy is it to find what you are looking for? Not very, until now.
Software company SimSage has revolutionised the way website search tools can be used by agri-businesses and organisations to better connect farmers with the information they need. It has developed a downloadable plugin website search function, which uses artificial intelligence to understand agriculture’s natural language.
A farmer typing ‘artificial insemination’ into the Google search bar will provide a colourful list of results, but unlikely will it be the shade they were looking for. “In industry, natural language is the use and interpretation of words and phrases that are specific to that sector,” says co-founder Sean Wilson.
And acronyms are another sticking point. “Type AI into any popular search engine and ‘Artificial Intelligence’ will dominate the search results – even when combined with ‘agriculture’ – but standard search functions aren’t configured to the broad range of agricultural language.”
While this example may seem trivial, it reflects on the incompatibilities creating barriers for an industry trying to keep digital pace. “When looking at farmers’ web use, Duchy College’s Rural Business School (RBS) found that farmers are online to find important information; most frequent in those searches were government websites,” explains Mr Wilson.
Additionally, finding information is often hindered by inadequate search engines– with participants calling for a ‘farmers google’.
The information gained through the RBS survey highlighted an opportunity for the business to adapt its original software. “SimSage started up in May 2019 with our core product – software aimed at streamlining a business’s internal information storage and sourcing,” explains Mr Wilson.
“While the original software has been successfully implemented in agri-business – including Glas Data’s knowledge base and data connect platform – we could see our core technology tackling challenges raised through the RBS survey.”
With the help of grant funding through Agri-Tech Cornwall and the Cornwall Development Company, SimSage brought in a range of partners to speed up this development.
SimSage is now working with Farming Health Hub to enable access to information covering multiple farming topics from a wide range of sources in one place. “Ordinarily, the more information there is, the more complicated and time consuming a search can become, but the plugin simplifies all that,” says Mr Wilson.
However, once configured, the plugin uses artificial intelligence to understand farming language and searches. From which frequently asked questions can be automated.
This means farmers can type in a question or keywords into the Hub’s search tool and quickly find specific information, no matter how they pose their query, he explains.
So what difference could this make to farmers sourcing information online?
The biggest problem is that business websites are not intuitive; most are company-centric rather than customer-centric, says Mr Wilson. “They might be industry relevant and look great, but still not have the pathways in place to make information on the site easy to find. Global market research provider IDC says 25-30% of the working day is spent trying to find information.”
A significant proportion of farmers’ time online is therefore wasted – even when technology is supposed to be increasing efficiency and freeing up time for farm work.
Installing the plugin to business websites will make them more easily searchable, so Mr Wilson is encouraging all farming organisations to use it to benefit the wider industry. “We developed the plugin search tool on WordPress as around 93% of UK websites are built on that platform; immediately that makes this tool widely implementable,” he explains. “Any website using WordPress can apply it directly from the internet.”
The software also benefits the business or body behind the website, allowing them to see what farmers are asking in real-time. “If agri-businesses are able to look at what farmers want to know, they can build and update the information and answers presented when these topics are raised as questions,” he explains. “An effective search tool on a website can generate anywhere between two and six times better engagement and revenue.”