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August 2014

USask students harvest experience for Farm At Hand mobile app

At a glance
The challenge

Agriculture in the 21st century is high-stakes and complicated

The solution

Harness the power of technology to help farmers manage operations

The outcome

A prototype app to help farmers from 'seed-to-sale'

What's next?

Take app to market

The market for smart phone applications is very competitive and tech start-ups must work with aggressive deadlines to bring their apps to market. Three Computer Science graduate students from the University of Saskatchewan helped start-up application developer Farm At Hand to advance their product with a quick turnaround so that they can take it to market in Canada’s fast-paced digital sector.

Agriculture and farming in the 21st century is an increasingly complex operation that requires sound organization and planning, from seed inventories to tractor parts and harvest planning, among other tasks for the farmer. Farm At Hand, a start-up mobile application company, was built to help farmers address the complex needs of their operations “from seed to sale.”

But the app was running into challenges as it grew and gained popularity. It was limited to devices running outdated mobile operating systems and lacked the server and database infrastructure to effectively manage continued growth.

To address these challenges, Mitacs Business Development Officer Chris Bowman approached Professor Ralph Deters to find a graduate student suited to the task.  M.Sc. candidate Khaled Haggag was initially brought on board, but when it became clear that the task was greater than anticipated, Nam Hoang and Rahnuma Kavi joined the team. With Chris Bowman’s assistance and Mitacs Accelerate’s fast approval process, they were able to get to work quickly. 

Together, the students rebuilt the server infrastructure and investigated ways to make it suitable to newer operating systems and higher client demands. They also enhanced the app’s reliability for farmers with poor cell coverage, added Facebook integration and real-time weather updates. At the end of their internship, the students were able to produce and submit both server and application prototypes to Farm At Hand. The company may soon be able to take their application to market from these prototypes.

Throughout the internship, the students learned some valuable lessons in project management, communication and team work. Khaled spoke on behalf of his colleagues saying, “The experience with Mitacs Accelerate was incredibly beneficial: we learned to work within corporate deadlines in the work atmosphere, and about time and task management for these kinds of projects.”

Professor Deters, who has supervised over a dozen students on Mitacs Accelerate projects, praised the program for giving his students relevant experience that employers look for:

“Mitacs Accelerate is the most applied program for students—it helps them to understand and solve the problems which have an impact on companies, and ultimately on people’s lives. Frequently employers look to my students and see their experience with Mitacs as valuable assets for hiring.”

Khaled will be expanding his industry-relevant experience through another Mitacs Accelerate internship this year and is considering joining the burgeoning tech sector upon completion of his Master’s degree. Meanwhile, Nam was offered an internship with a major international technology company based on his experience building the Farm At Hand application and Rahnuma was hired by a Toronto start-up.

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Saskatchewan for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, and Research Manitoba.

Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities: