Unlocking the potential of agriculture with evidence-based production
Evidence-based production (EBP) is set to have a major impact on the productivity of agricultural supply chains and is defined by Proagrica as “farming that embraces technology and utilizes data to inform production”.
EBP involves agronomists, advisors, input suppliers, processors and retailers using data to optimize performance; both at the farm level and within their individual businesses. Deployed correctly, it provides a secure, scalable, standardized and seamless infrastructure to automatically transform real-time data into actionable insights that deliver practical benefits. These benefits not only concern crops in the field but include potentially vast gains from more effectively using existing datasets to reveal new insights across the supply chain and to truly learn from past performance.
Most farms have several years’ worth of data stored in their farm management information systems (FMIS) or via a complex mix of legacy CRM tools, spreadsheets and paper-based records. Nowadays, FMIS offers farmers the means to automate and standardize data collection on-farm. However, in many businesses, the vast potential of this data is severely under-exploited. Such data becomes really useful to farmers, agronomists and input suppliers when current challenges can be seamlessly compared with similar past events. For example, if 2012 was a bad potato blight year and if 2017 turns out to be similar, then agronomists can easily refer back to operations during 2012 to identify which practices were applied on-farms, successfully or otherwise. Agronomists can easily combine this data with the latest weather, soil, sensors and research data to provide customized recommendations to farmers for specific field areas. This could include optimizing variable rate applications for each 10m2 field section considering current weather conditions and forecasts or using automated systems to alert farmers of disease outbreaks (e.g. yellow rust) and advise them on the most appropriate actions depending on the level of risk. This could include only treating the most susceptible sections as opposed to a whole field, thus minimizing wastage.
Combining anonymized and aggregated FMIS data, available with the farmer’s permission, with external data not only enables agronomists to provide a much better service to farmers, it also drives superior decision-making elsewhere. For example, fertilizer suppliers can quickly identify areas most likely to suffer nutrient deficiencies based on a combination of current applications, crop rotations, sensors and satellite data. This informs production and distribution planning, fertiliser application recommendations and marketing communications. Grain merchants can provide benchmarking data which helps farmers to more closely meet product specifications given evolving growing conditions. Crop protection manufacturers can proactively monitor real-time usage across several territories to identify potential product shortages locally and quickly address such issues.
Applying EBP across an entire supply chain will make agricultural data much more powerful and flexible whilst permitting individual businesses to retain full control over any data that they share with others. Across the industry, inputs are efficiently transformed into outputs, thus minimizing waste. The substantial savings achievable via EBP will play a key role in feeding a growing world population with less resources.
Redefining industry boundaries and transforming competition
These straightforward yet highly innovative solutions are available, not just to a select few, but to every agricultural business. Harvard Business Review (2014) highlighted the transformative potential of smart connected products to reshape competition and redefine industry boundaries. With the Proagrica platform, the means to exploit this potential is available today; data from disparate parts of the supply chain can-be connected-up to reveal new insights that dramatically improve productivity. Such advancements are not only improving core operations but are creating entirely new business models. Numerous companies are already witnessing significant benefits which can be achieved without the need to invest in costly technology or equipment.
 Henke, N., Bughin, J., Chui, M., Manyika, J., Saleh, T., Wiseman, B. and Sethupathy, G. (2016), “The age of analytics: Competing in a data-driven world”, accessible online via: http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-analytics/our-insights/the-age-of-analytics-competing-in-a-data-driven-world, McKinsey Global Institute.
 Porter, M. and Heppelmann, J.E. (2014), How Smart Connected Products Are Transforming Competition, Harvard Business Review.