Streamlining Seed Certification
Technological advancements in agriculture apply not only to the science of crop development, but increasingly to the business and administrative operations surrounding the management of these crops. More elaborate reporting systems and online tools are continually being developed to help with accurate measuring and reporting of information, which can then be adapted for each specific crop purpose.
The Canadian Seed Growers’ Association currently uses custom-built software, commonly referred to as the Crop Certification System (CCS2), to manage day-to-day seed certification operations. CCS2 is used to prepare all crop applications, crop inspection reports and generate all certification and crop inspection documents. Ongoing modifications are routinely made to CCS2 to address changes in seed certification, such as the introduction of wheat midge-tolerant varietal blends.
In 2011, CSGA also introduced an application tool to its website, which allows growers to apply for crop inspection online and pay fees online—a timely investment, given the Canada Post mail strike last fall. Included in this application tool was the option for growers to provide feedback online. This feedback is now being used to make additional improvements in 2012. Some new features under development include the creation of a “Grower Dashboard,” a one-stop confidential online member profile and information section due for release this spring, the incorporation of Google mapping software into field maps, an automatic fee calculator and several design improvements.
Moving forward, CSGA is working towards implementing a data management solution, initially to be used to archive crop applications, crop inspection reports and variety files, making them more readily available to CSGA staff and to seed growers online via the CSGA website. The system will automate the workflow and complete the appraisal of documents electronically. The ultimate goal is to reduce paper records which, in turn, will reduce the time it takes to issue a crop certificate.
To this end, CSGA is currently exploring remote data collection technologies that would also speed up electronic reporting of crop inspections. These systems will reduce the time between the crop inspection and the time an inspection report is received at CSGA for appraisal. Two technologies are being considered—smartphones/tablets and smart pens/smart paper.
Tablet Versus Smart Pen
Although convenient compared with traditional methods of record keeping, handheld tablets such as the iPad are not designed for a farm environment where inspectors are out in the field and subject to the elements. Furthermore, the cost of a handheld tablet ranges from $300-$800, depending on the model, which is considerably higher compared with the smart pen. The many features and applications available with handheld tablets, such as web browsing, touch screen and app downloading, would need to be weighed against the ease-of-use in the field versus the cost of the smart pen.
By comparison, the smart pen/smart paper option with audio recorder is a “low tech,” low-cost (around $100), easy-to-use option that can satisfy CSGA, Canadian Food Inspection Agency and seed grower requirements, while ease of implementation appears manageable from a logistics and training point of view.
Essentially, this technology uses an infrared camera with a unique “fingerprint” dot matrix to record pen strokes made on the crop inspection report. Once downloaded to a computer, the crop inspection report is converted into a PDF file, which is then emailed to the seed grower, CFIA district office and CSGA office. Adoption of electronic data transfer technology would mean same-day receipt of crop inspection reports for seed growers, the CSGA appraising staff and CFIA offices and increased access to information for seed growers.
Regardless of the tools chosen, the variable level of technology adoption by everyone involved in the seed certification process illustrates the need to maintain the old systems and also implement more efficient options. A classic example is the lack of email addresses on file for all seed growers. Without an up-to-date and actively maintained seed grower email list, a digital reporting system is not viable. It’s a good place to start.