The development of our new best of breed agricultural software is continuing. We ran the software overnight and after 189 million iterations we came into the office this morning to find that the run had been completed. This was a big step forward and we now have a product that is likely to be of great benefit to sheep, cattle and other agribusinesses in the future.
The next challenge is to scale up the software to handle large numbers of livestock. This means that we will be looking at ways of ‘speeding up’ the code so that we can provide advice to agribusinesses in real-time (or nearly real-time).
One of the things that has continually surprised me is the inherent complexity of operating an agribusiness. The number of variables and the dynamic nature of these systems is truly mind boggling.
On the surface, a particular ‘decision’ faced by an agribusiness such as “How much stock should I buy/sell?” or how much fertiliser should I apply appears to be relatively simple however when you look at the repercussions of this decision and model every possible combination of decision, then there is a richness and deep complexity.
I sometimes think of agricultural businesses as akin to a game of chess. You have a certain number of pieces on the chessboard (equivalent to your livestock). A beginner in the game of chess can learn the basic rules of each chess piece in about 10 minutes. Each player in a game of chess has 16 chess pieces. There are 318,979,564,000 possible ways to play the first four moves of chess.
16 chess pieces = 318 billion possible ways to play the FIRST 4 moves
16,000 sheep (or other livestock) = x billion ways to optimise the business.
When you think more about this, you realise that a sheep or cattle business is much more complex than a game of chess as the “rules” of the game are constantly changing. This is because the weather is unpredictable and prices for both inputs and outputs are constantly fluctuating.
Using the chess analogy, our sheep management software currently is making its first move, however we hope to be the Deep Blue of agricultural software very shortly.