LFS 496 Student Profile: Ian McLean, Farm Management Application Assistant

LFS 496 Student Profile: Ian McLean, Farm Management Application Assistant

Work Placement: Farm Management Application

Supervisor: Zia Mehrabi

What do you study?

This was my last semester of the Bachelor of Computer Science second degree program. I originally studied biology as an undergraduate and graduate student. Since finishing school, I’ve started working as a software developer. Interning here gave me the opportunity to bridge all my degrees together and broaden my options within different disciplines.

What was your work placement?

My internship involved software development work on the UBC Farm application, which is an open source software application being developed at UBC for farmers and farms around the world. This application will be used for farm management tasks (finances, inventory, human resources, etc.), while also incorporating ecosystem management (CO2 calculations, biodiversity monitoring, etc.).

There is currently a gap in the market between farm management software and environmental/sustainability monitoring, and we are hoping to bridge that gap with an easy to use and cost efficient application. My job consisted of one big project, which I broke down into different development tasks, and then I took those individual tasks, and examined what I needed to do, and what knowledge I was missing, to see if I needed to learn something new. I spent a lot of time doing tutorials but once I had the knowledge that I needed, I was able to start writing code and testing it out. The project required a lot of trial and error, which allowed me to learn and figure out the next steps on my own.

What was the most interesting thing you encountered in your internship?

What surprised me the most was how much was required for farm management. I never realized all the data that is involved, and all the problems that farmers encounter on a day-to-day basis. I had a much simpler view of what it was to be a farmer but I was shocked to see the depth of what the UBC Farm application is trying to do. The application has to be able to handle a range of activities, and the scheduling for those activities, as well as numerous calculations and inputs/outputs. The amount of data that is required, and that needs to be maintained and manipulated at different points, is phenomenal. It also needs to ensure ease of use for the farmer, and that they only need to enter a minimal amount of data, since farmers don’t want to have to constantly be entering data or re-entering the same piece of data. Working with the application, I now have a better idea about farm management and the amount of resources that go into it.

What intrigues you about the food system?

Agriculture is quite disruptive in terms of environment and societies but it is also a necessity because we need food. Due to the instability of this problem, we need a controlled way to get food; can we grow more food with less impact, without hurting people and the planet? Bridging agriculture and technology, I believe, will provide us with many answers to this problem. This bridge will create a more efficient way to create a balance between sustainability and agriculture. I recently read an article on how Canada is going to be short a significant number of farm workers and potentially, the bridge between technology and agriculture could compensate for those missing workers, while also creating new job opportunities for different agricultural sectors. I think it sounds very appealing.

What is one thing people should know about CSFS at UBC Farm but don’t?

One thing people should know about the UBC Farm is that it is strong from an academic perspective, as well as industrial. It has multiple research projects going on but at the same time it is a fully-working farm that makes money. I didn’t know about this until I spent time  learning about the UBC Farm. I also didn’t know how multi-disciplinary it is. There are more computer science students who would probably love to work on the UBC Farm application and would do it just for a chance to get experience. I’m sure there are business or arts students who would love to get involved with different aspects of marketing and design. Engineering students who would love to build useful farm equipment. There is so much potential for every department to be involved in agriculture in some way. CSFS at UBC Farm is a great point for those people to come together to build and develop good relationships with agriculture and the food system generally.

What is your favourite crop that grows at the Farm?

Blueberries and honey.

See current work placement opportunities and learn more about LFS 496.

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