farmOS Releases First Beta of farmOS v2 in the New Year

After a year of development, farmOS rang in the new year with the first release of their next major version of the application: v2.0.0-beta1.

“If we look back at how much we’ve built in just the past couple years, it’s really amazing,” says Michael Stenta, founder, maintainer, and lead developer of farmOS. farmOS is a web-based application for farm management, planning, and record keeping developed by a community of farmers, developers, researchers, and organizations with the aim of providing a standard platform for agricultural data collection and management.

This updated version is not only built to be compatible with Drupal 9, an open source digital experience platform used to build the application, but brings many additional improvements, modernizations, and new features. Updates include new asset types such as seed or material, inventory tracking for assets and updated log types. Assets refers to anything a farmer or rancher is managing, such as land, crops, or livestock while logs identify either activities or events that take place on the farm like harvesting. Additionally, there is improved group membership logic, upgraded data streams for sensor integration, a better user experience and improved mobile support, updated APIs, and a new user guide so individuals can navigate the changes among other modifications. The farmOS website also saw some improvements and new documentation for hosting, development, module building, and API changes was shared.

“This means that farmers, and the organizations that serve them, can start using farmOS v2 for their data management today! And we can start working as a community on all of the big ideas that we’ve been preparing for with these upgrades, including more integrations with other systems and standardizing management data conventions to support data sharing, interoperability, and community-based benchmarking tools,” says Stenta, “This is just the first step. 2022 is going to be an exciting year!”

Current farmOS users will have the opportunity to make the switch and Farmier, the web-hosting companion to farmOS, is now offering farmOS v2 hosting. To make the migration process easier, farmOS has developed a way for users to automatically migrate from v1 to v2.

“Because so many people are using farmOS, we also have to manage the migration to the new platform and help people through that process, which requires a lot of forethought. So, we’ve created migration code which will migrate farmers from one version to the next automatically,” says Stenta.

Like other tools within the OpenTEAM technology ecosystem, farmOS is open-source and publicly accessible to any farmer. It serves as both a database and interface, so farmers can find, add, and manage data and information for their farm easily. From managing organic certification to equipment maintenance, farmers use farmOS to satisfy many different needs.

The application also includes an API (Application Programming Interface), making it possible for other programs such as Field Kit (farmOS’s companion offline-first mobile app) to push and pull from this database too. This implements interoperability among systems and, in the case of the Field Kit, makes it easier to use the farmOS interface offline.

Ever since the beginning, farmOS has been committed to remaining open source. Through open source development, each piece of code acts as a lego block which others can use and build on top of, moving progress faster and farther than otherwise. By being a part of the OpenTEAM community and technology ecosystem, farmOS has been able to gather support for the development of their application and connect and build off of other programs, helping farmers to more easily protect, manage, analyze, and share their data.

While this release is just the first step, “It’s hard to overstate how big of a step it is,” wrote Stenta in an update to the farmOS discourse group. As the new update makes farmOS more robust, flexible, and easier to use than ever, it creates a solid platform for the farmOS community to build further improvements on in the years to come.

From Excel Spreadsheet to Global Environmental Impacts Measurement Tool

At its inception, the Cool Farm Tool was an excel spreadsheet developed to quantify greenhouse gas emissions. Today it is a tool used by farmers around the world to measure their greenhouse gas emissions, how well their farm supports biodiversity, and the quantity of water used to produce crops and support farm operations.

The Cool Farm Alliance is made up of 132 members. The Cool Farm Tool has over 22,000 registered users in 140 different countries, thus the Tool is translated into 14 languages. It is connected via an Automated Programming Interface (API) to 30 different farm management software packers and sustainability platforms used by farmers globally.

Farmers quantifying on-farm sustainability typically use the tool to gain insight into how agronomic decisions can contribute to mitigating climate change. The tool gives farmers the opportunity to estimate the effects of farming practice changes on greenhouse gas emissions, carbon sequestration, and other measures. The tool is built from empirical models and requires less data inputs by farmers compared to some other tools. Patrick Lawrence, a Cool Farm Alliance Technical Advisor says, “It is easy to use and easy to use everywhere.” Farmers from Australia to Southeast Asia are using the tool to quantify their environmental impacts and determine how to improve their operations, all while maintaining profitability.

As the Cool Farm Tool has progressed over the years, it has expanded in breadth and scope under the stewardship of the Cool Farm Alliance. Organizations that use the Tool to support sustainable agriculture become Cool Farm Alliance members and pay membership fees, facilitating further development of the Tool and keeping it free to use for farmers. This collaborative structure allows Cool Farm Alliance members to help build literacy and understanding about the relationship between agriculture and climate change mitigation across the food and agriculture industries.

Like OpenTEAM, the Cool Farm Alliance cultivates a broader network of members, consultants, and skilled professionals who are collectively developing the Tool and methodology for its measurements. How something is measured, such as soil carbon, varies as there are different methods used. For tools such as the Cool Farm Tool, implementing standardized measurement practices provide a scientifically sound approach for estimating emissions, biodiversity, or water metrics on farms. To help develop consensus on these topics, the Cool Farm Alliance has been participating in OpenTEAM’s Field Methods Working Group and in the recent Carbon Series, where organizations have been co-creating cohesive measurement protocols for soil health testing.

As the science around such protocols continually changes, the Cool Farm Alliance is similarly on a path of continuous improvement serving both those who rely on stable results from Cool Farm Tool for developing long-term emissions baselines, and those who rely on the most up-to-date science.

The Cool Farm Alliance plans to release an updated version of the Tool early next year. This will improve calculations and add helpful improvements to the user interface, says Lawrence.

Furthermore, the Cool Farm Tool has an Automated Programming Interface (API) that enables the connection with external management and data softwares to use existing data for calculating assessments at scale. To make things easier for farmers, the Cool Farm Alliance has been working alongside OpenTEAM community members farmOS and Our Sci to enable data stored on their platforms to be compatible with the CFT data requirements, streamlining the process of calculating emissions. As the platforms connect, farmers won’t have to worry about entering their data more than once. Rather, their data from applications such as farmOS and SurveyStack will auto populate the Cool Farm Tool assessment, making it even easier to measure the environmental impacts of their farms.

With OpenTEAM, collaborations like this are made possible. Cool Farm Tool and Cool Farm Alliance have learned a lot from other participants within the OpenTEAM ecosystem, joining a community of like-minded tools and skilled professionals who interact with those tools who can collaborate towards a shared goal. In 2022, they look forward to cultivating these relationships more and developing the tool further through the introduction of additional modules, making the tool even more accessible and usable to farmers from a variety of geographies, production systems, and scales.

Bridging Indigenous Knowledge with Research in Malawi

Michigan State University is one of OpenTEAM’s original member organizations from 2019. The Michigan State University Hub, located in Malawi, is led by Dr. Sieglinde Snapp, professor of soils and cropping systems ecology and Associate Director of the Center for Global Change and Earth Observations. In Malawi, they are working to build farmer-centric networks of extension officers, researchers, and farmers to generate a new way of working in agriculture that bridges farmers’ indigenous knowledge and researchers’ understanding of soils to create a better functioning farm.

The Malawi Hub is based out of the MSU Global Change Learning Lab, which facilitates agroecology research throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. The co-learning lab is providing a platform where researchers can make long-term observations while interacting directly with farmers through on-farm experiments. Dr. Snapp was inspired to create this learning lab when she first visited the area in 1993.

“I could see that traditional approaches to understanding agriculture and soils were just not working. The idea of sending in soil samples from a small-scale farm, who were very poor farmers, and then they would somehow have to analyze the information sent back, it just seemed untenable,” she says. 

Dr. Snapp, along with others, decided to rethink how they approached agricultural research through the Global Change Learning Lab. “I realized more and more science is done on just a few research stations that aren’t very related to the real world. There are huge gaps between researchers and farmers,” she states. They needed to find a way that was more farmer-centric and took into account farmers’ own capabilities to enact new processes on their farms.

Researchers developed new methods to reverse the usual top-down approach by having farmers inform and contextualize the research that is happening, ultimately making each farm they work with a research farm. Using this participatory research method, researchers interact directly with those who actually manage the land. Informed by this, researchers can provide farmers with options that can improve their agricultural practices while being conducive to their needs and capabilities.

This is realized by Dr. Snapp’s innovative “mother-baby” trial design that links farmer-led and researcher-led research together. Through this, farmers’ own knowledge and choices inform the research happening at the university level and farmers themselves can be exposed to a wider range of ideas and options.

“It’s a way of communication, that what farmers choose tells researchers something about which practices farmers like the best and how farmers adapt things is a way for researchers to learn. What is in the mother trial, that has all the options, is a way for farmers to be exposed to a wider range of options,” says Dr. Snapp. 

This newer way of thinking creates positive feedback loops where farmers’ choices inform research and the research informs the farmers’ choices. Creating a process where farmers and researchers can learn from each other in a multi-faceted way.

Current research at the Malawi Hub focuses on giving farmers options in the field as they learn about their soil health. Over the past year, Malawi extension educators went to a thousand farmers and walked the fields with them, using the reflectometer tool provided by Our Sci, to give real time data on soil carbon status. This was the start of a conversation with farmers, asking what farmer’s observed. If farmers had observed issues such as parasitic weeds like ‘striga’, also called witchweed, and other signs of degradation, then options for soil rehabilitation were discussed. By knowing certain characteristics of a farmer’s soil, the educators can suggest options that farmers can try to fix their soil health. Exploring options and engaging in learning together is the start of an entirely new way to do research, a farmer-centric and community based approach.

Dr. Snapp looks forward to developing more interoperability within the OpenTEAM tech ecosystem to better support this participatory research model, such as e-surveys for systematic feedback, the development of apps that allow farmers to find each other and share options that have worked on their farms, and documentation of their soil status through LandPKS and other applications. This is just the beginning, as the Malawi Hub continues to grow in building out its farmer-centric processes and methods. 

Using farmOS at Organic Valley

Organic Valley is one of our 15 Hubs that are using our suite of tools to help them manage everything from farm planning to organic certification. Of the many tools available to farmers, Organic Valley uses farmOS to keep track of all their records, documents, and logs of what is happening on the farm, ultimately using that information to maintain their organic certification.

Lexi Leum is the Farm Resources Coordinator in the Sustainability Department at Organic Valley. Leum’s work primarily includes applying for grants, offering field support for Organic Valley’s Farm and Land Program, and collaborating with the organic certification department, which is where farmOS primarily comes in, says Leum.

“We use farmOS for the filing of documents and events throughout the growing season. When we are audited at our organic inspection, we can reference the log of events in farmOS to showcase our work,” Leum states.

Of the features farmOS has to offer, Organic Valley appreciates the visual aspect of drawing maps, seeing field boundaries, and then being able to manipulate those as necessary in order to track their progress. farmOS also offers a Field Kit, an app accessed from your phone which allows you to record data without having to be at your computer. These features help Organic Valley and other farmOS users to adequately keep track of all the events and plans that happen during each season, which can later be reported and looked back on.

Leum sees their commitment to using farmOS as a major accomplishment, helping them to manage all of their records in one place. “Because we had been filing data in many different ways, to commit to one is where we really have been giving our best effort to utilize farmOS”, Leum states. 

Leum says there is a growing desire from farmers to be able to use softwares like farmOS, “I think there is a true desire for applications like farmOS, especially 1for producers who utilize technology as a management tool. For those folks, this platform could be useful to sort and file their data.”

farmOS is a web-based application for farm management, planning, and record keeping. It is developed by a community of farmers, developers, researchers, and organizations with the aim of providing a standard platform for agricultural data collection and management.

You can learn more about farmOS and see it in action from the GODAN Open Farms Mini Documentary.