Tools & data

Background

COVID-19 pandemic: the right time to go online

For AgVisor Pro, a Canadian-developed connectivity platform, the COVID-19 pandemic brought growth.

As the global economy anxiously ruminates on the impacts of COVID-19, some companies appear well-suited to the now-normal, distance-oriented reality of business.

For AgVisor Pro, a Canadian-developed connectivity platform, the pandemic’s tumultuous months actually brought growth. For the country’s veterinarians, virtual and tele-health services brought continuity.

AgVisor Pro – agriculture meets online dating

“We expanded the team to 14 during COVID-19, and are planning on adding more,” says Robert Saik, founder and chief executive officer of AgVisor Pro. “Our year end was March. We were just ready to turn commercial when COVID-19 hit.”

Agvisor Pro, as described by Saik, is an application blending elements of Uber, E-Harmony, and other widely used software to connect users with advisors through all the usual means (text, call, video), plus photo-sharing capability.

Users with a specific problem, that is, can find a specific advisor to help virtually. Areas of expertise include crops, livestock, machinery, technology, marketing, management, or health and wellness.

“It’s a one-stop source for connecting to the ag sector. You do not need to search to the find the group. AGvisorPRO is the hood,” says Saik. “It’s unique in that we have created a way for experts to monetize their brains. The session rate will be adjusted based on GIS location as well – meaning a session in Nigeria with an Nigerian farmers and advisor will be a different rate than in Canada.”

He later reiterates it’s also “device agnostic,” and work is being done to incorporate it into other platforms.

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“We expanded the team to 14 during COVID-19, and are planning on adding more,” says Robert Saik, founder and chief executive officer of AgVisor Pro.
“We expanded the team to 14 during COVID-19, and are planning on adding more,” says Robert Saik, founder and chief executive officer of AgVisor Pro.

The low-hanging fruit – agronomy and machinery

Saik says agronomic and technology (machinery) support are the low-hanging fruit for advising virtually, and one farmers have found particularly handy since the pandemic placed severe constraints on farm visits.

In cases of machinery breakdown, for example, he says the ability to quickly share images and walk around the machine with the right expert helps farmers fix, or at least diagnose issues.

I don’t need to be in the field to distinguish between nitrogen or sulphur deficiencies

“To be on the farm without being on the farm. I don’t need to be in the field to distinguish between nitrogen or sulphur deficiencies,” says Saik, adding advisors themselves can use it to expand their own networks. “Most farmers have an agronomist but they’re not always an entomologist.”

Growing interest abroad

Since its recent launch, 202 individual advisors and 484 active users are currently registered on the app, though an initiative to incorporate entire companies (a.k.a. “industry partners”) into the network is also beginning.

AgVisor launched in Canada last year, though advisors from other countries are also involved. This includes the United States, Uruguay, Germany, Australia, and Argentina.

Saik says their numbers in Europe are currently low, but pandemic-related travel and contact restrictions have led to increased discussions with partners on the continent, as well as in Ireland and the United Kingdom.

“It was too expensive to keep doing things before, like flying in an expert or renting a car for them to speak for 45 minutes,” he says. “The winds of change were blowing before.”

Vets and tele-health – diagnosing from a distance

Diagnosing problems from a distance is a long-established practice for some veterinarians. As the pandemic began to bite, these services increased in importance and frequency.

“We’re a large vet service so that means we’ve had to make more changes than if we only had a few people,” says Kelly Barratt, a large animal veterinarian working in a livestock-heavy region of Ontario.

“On-farm its been an interesting challenge because we tend to work closely together. We say to stand at least one cow length apart. Things take a little bit longer.”

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As the pandemic began to bite, these services increased in importance and frequency for veterinarians like Kelly Barratt.
As the pandemic began to bite, these services increased in importance and frequency for veterinarians like Kelly Barratt.

Video consultations and photo sharing

However, many years of employing tele-health services “extremely actively” have allowed her and her colleagues to continue operations with as few impediments as possible. As with Saik’s example of fixing machinery, video consultations and photo sharing have been critical aspects of such services.

Trevor Lawson, a large-animal veterinarian operating in Nova Scotia, also says telehealth practices were very common prior to COVID-19. Phone and video sessions have been a very helpful tool in reducing otherwise unnecessary and time-consuming farm visits.

“I’ve been in practice for fifteen years and have been using it right from the start [...] We’re much more prepared for case updates,” says Lawson. “We’re adapting in light of COVID, but really we were doing much of it in the first place.”

Trust just as important as tech

Technology might be the tool, but trust is a necessary foundation. While Barratt says managing stress on the part of employees and their farm clients has been another source of pandemic-induced pressure, long-established relationships – and the trust they engender – have made it much easier to “have frank conversations” while staying productive.

Indeed, she says trust is the critical factor allowing virtual consultations work – making it easier for vets to monitor animals from a distance, and make recommendations, while allowing the farmer to have confidence in their ability to do so.

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