Dairy farmers milk open source
South African dairy farmers are starting to use open source software to improve their farming techniques and outputs. ACS Online has developed a range of dairy farming-specific modules using PHP, Apache and MySQL running on Sun boxes with Solaris 9. The modules currently available include financial management, a sustainable pasture management system, livestock management and a performance analysis module which uses the Balanced Scorecard reporting technique.
ACS Online is a Sun Microsystems associate and supports the work of ACS Agricultural Consulting Services.
Sidney Badier, CIO of ACS Online, says the use of open source software has \”given us many advantages such as the undeniable performance capabilities of MySQL and PHP, while we have also been able to produce an application at a fraction of the cost of using proprietary software.\”
Badier is particularly enthusiastic about the Sustainable Pasture Management System (SPS) module. \”This has been live and available for almost two months now and already over 70 customers countrywide are successfully using the solution,\” he says.
Using the software farmers are able to capture their pasture data and generate vital graphs and reports immediately online using PCs connected to the Internet or handheld GPRS-enabled devices to access Internet services.
\”Our customer base is spread throughout the country with many stakeholders in areas that have very poor telecommunication infrastructure,\” says Badier. \”The ability to capitalise on wireless communication delivers functionality that otherwise would not be available to them.\”
The technology also allows data to be collected while offline, synchronising when a connection is available.
Angus Drummond, a consultant assisting farmers to use the system in the Underberg region, Kwa-Zulu Natal, says it is used on a daily basis by the farmers to enter pasture related data and generate graphs and reports as required. \”Using the technology the farmers are able to establish how much grass is on each pasture, how fast it is being consumed by their cattle and, over time, it gives average rates. The variety of reports provides considerable insight, helping with grazing cycles, recording the fertilizer that goes into pasture and the resultant growth. It\’s a powerful tool to measure the efficiency of the pastures,\” he says.
Badier, a former head of IT Architecture at South African Airways, says the decision to work with Sun hardware and the Solaris OS was to ensure the systems would run uninterrupted 24/7.
Sun Microsystems has been involved with the project from the initial planning stages, says Margaret Shawcross, partner channel manager at Sun Microsystems Cape Town. \”Sun initially provided an E220 server, and then an Ultra 10 workstation as a development platform. We also provided some technical support around the development environment,\” she says.
Shawcross says Sun got involved in the project because it felt this was an interesting and highly practical but specialised application area which has not been given high attention in this country. \”The farm management applications are something that Sun wanted to support because we are traditionally strong in scientific environments, so we believed this venture was just one way that we could help the farming community experience how IT can be a supportive tool for it.\”
ACS Consulting CEO Jeff Every says that with significant dairy farming activities in other countries including Australia and New Zealand there is considerable export potential for the solution. \”Thanks to the assistance of Sun Microsystems, we believe we have another winning solution from South Africa that we can take to the world,\” says Badier.