SAP for Farming?
Many, if not most, of the global agribusinesses run SAP software. But to my knowledge, no individual farmers do. At least, no farmers like those in my rural Pennsylvania neighborhood of corn, soybean, and dairy farms.
So the question I have, is how can SAP help farmers like my neighbors, most of whom have never heard of SAP?
Farmers get higher crop yields if they plant the right seed varieties for each field, plant seeds the optimal distance apart at the optimal depth, and don’t waste seed by over seeding in areas where tractors turn around. Same applies to fertilizer. Fertilizer is the farmer’s biggest expense other than seed, and spreading it at the same rate over every row of every field and overlapping at row ends is sometimes a waste of fertilizer (in the worst case, a cause of watershed polluting runoff) and sometimes a drop in the bucket, significantly short of what the soil needs to produce the best crop.
Ironically, to make the best decisions about what seeds to plant and what to put on them, farmers need to share information with the companies who sell to them: seed companies, fertilizer companies, farm equipment manufacturers, companies who sell fungicides, pesticides, and herbicides. Companies that by and large run SAP.
Just like describing your symptoms to a doctor in order to get a diagnosis and prescription, farmers need to share the basic stats of each field — even of each section of each field — in order to get planting and crop input advice. They need to share the history of what has been planted in each field, what has been applied to the fields, and what the yields are (as in bushels harvested).
But farmers are increasingly reluctant to share this data. At Penn State’s Ag Progress Days in State College, PA this past August, one session on the first day drew big attention:
“Farmer-Generated Data: Benefits and Risks — Panel of Experts Sponsored by Lancaster Farming“
The experts on this panel were the president of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, along with a John Deere dealer, president of Binkley & Hurst farm equipment dealerships, a Farm Manager who has used Precision Farming techniques for 15 years, former president of T. A. Seeds, and a Penn State agricultural law professor.
The issue for farmers is that the data about yields from individual fields – the same data that would enable seed and fertilizer companies to help them tailor their planting and fertilizing decisions (saving seed and fertilizer and maximizing yield) — is data that other people can make money from, potentially at the farmer’s expense.
For example, commodity traders have historically used USDA data and private surveys to determine prices for commodities like corn and soybeans. That data is not real –time. If these traders had access to data collected at the time of harvest from hundreds of combines in the field, they would have information that would enable them to manipulate the commodity market to their benefit, taking away from farmers the advantage that comes from knowing their yields. Another area of concern is the possibility that a seed or fertilizer or crop protection company could use yield data to adjust their product prices to get a bigger share of the farmers’ wallets. Or that yield data visible to other farmers would lead to completion for land leases. The list of privacy concerns goes on, fueled by concern over recent, widely publicized data breaches, including one this May at Monsanto-owned Climate Corporation that exposed farmer data.
In this increasingly distrustful environment, how can SAP help? Our new company description — The Industry Cloud Company powered by SAP
HANA – indicates that the direction we are going puts us in a good position to help farmers. The consensus at the Ag Progress Days Farmer-Generated Data Panel was that storing farmer data in “the cloud” was the emerging standard. To quote one of the panel members:
“The cloud is kind of the next generation. Up to this point, we’ve used memory cards or data sticks, but moving forward it’s going to be all digital via the cloud.”
While there many cloud storage options available to farmers now, SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud – with its ability to store huge volumes of data from multiple sources, capture streaming “event” data (think of planting and harvesting as events) and its prebuilt analytic and predictive capabilities – is ideally suited to store and analyze farmers’ data. To be clear, I don’t think you’ll see SAP selling access to HANA Enterprise Cloud at Tractor Supply (an SAP customer, by the way). But I do think you will see SAP partners and customers using our cloud and database technology to develop and enhance their precision agriculture solutions.
One SAP partner, F4F (First For Farming) is doing exactly that right now. As part of an OEM agreement with SAP, F4F is using SAP HANA to enhance the data services they currently provide to the agribusinesses who use the F4F network to share agricultural data. The data transmitted over this network ranges from soil analysis data, to weight and quality data for crops delivered to grain companies, to seed declarations filed electronically with government agencies. F4F is looking to SAP HANA enable it to collect even more data, analyze it more effectively, and provide better services to the agribusinesses who are its customers – as well as to these businesses’ ultimate customers: farmers.
With this example in mind, I look forward to a day when I walk into Stoltzfus Feed or the local CPS terminal with my SAP bill cap on, and the folks
behind the counter don’t ask: SAP? What is that?