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Author's profile photo Mark Darbyshire

Farming by Numbers

I don’t have much of a green thumb. Most of my plants eventually become dried flower arrangements by default. And working in IT, I know even less about farming than I do about gardening. At first glance you certainly wouldn’t think of Big Data and farming in the same context. So it was with a mixture of curiosity and fun that I got to see the perspective of a farmer. This perspective came from the Digital Farming demo on the Run Simple Truck touring the UK last month.


I always think seeing technology applied to non-traditional scenarios helps people see the art of the possible to make them think about the potential in their own business.

So take farming for example. It’s a cost intensive business with low margins and lots of variables, such as the weather, the price of seeds, and the availability and cost of labour, to name but a few. All of which can affect both productivity and profitability.

Until now, it’s been an elusive problem and almost impossible to solve. The Digital Farming application, developed in conjunction with SAP partner, Luciad, starts changing all that. Using HANA as an Internet of Things platform, farmers can now optimise their harvest by real time evaluation of weather, ground data, and geo data to improve crop quality and productivity: i.e. through using HANA as a data platform.

By contextualising with an aerial image through a geo-spatial overview of the entire farm, farmers can gather data from strategically placed sensors about a range of critical parameters, such as weather conditions, tractors in the field, soil moisture, acidity, humidity, the need for fertiliser, and even pest or fungus detection. These analytics let farmers choose precisely when and where to fertilise, and select the right concentration to use with nitrates based on soil analysis. Farmers can water their fields with the exact amount of water needed by the crop, giving them precious savings in drought conditions. They can also spray pesticides only on the areas that really need it, saving time, labour and materials. But because they’re not just doing this by visual observation, issues (e.g. fungus detection) can be made sooner: less impact, and cheaper to address.


What I really liked about demos like this was the simple, intuitive view. Here on the division of crops, how best to fallow a particular field between crops, and colour coding showing which fields are most profitable.

Real-time weather data reports alert farmers to potentially dangerous conditions, such as hail, gusts of wind, storms or flooding, and predictive analysis allows the system to calculate the future impact on the fields.

It even gives suggested tasks to optimise and plan future activities based on past history.

Plus, when a specific task has been identified by the system, the farmer can dispatch it to subcontractors working in the fields either through their own network of farm workers or via a farming business network. And it gives a real time view of work taking place, such as when a tractor enters a field, the engine speed, fuel consumption, and wheel base speed with heat maps showing how much fertiliser is being used. This data could also be used for preventative maintenance on farm equipment.

The demos on the Run Simple Truck ranged from a farmer’s field to the football field, with a demo of the new Sports One team management software. (There were demos of other new sports apps for sailing, cricket, tennis and golf). City Football Group and its clubs, including Manchester City FC, are now using Sports One for talent management, football performance, and human performance. Think of it as a single unified platform to manage teams, player acquisition, and analytical insights around individual player performance. (If you’re a football fan, you’ll know that this is the next evolution of the SAP Match Insights solution, developed for the German Soccer Association for its preparation for the world cup in Brazil last year).

In case you missed the Run Simple Truck tour, it’s well worth looking at the demos online. You’ll see how technology is delivering insights and efficiencies into completely disparate industries and scenarios, solving problems from digital farming to football – and potentially even in your own business.

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