The Evolution of E-Luminate: Syngenta’s Seed Selection Platform

Written by Marjorie Valin

mvalin@skywardapps.com

September 10, 2022

Seed selection is one of the most important decisions a farmer makes. Even if farmers do everything else right, planting the wrong hybrid or variety on their fields can reduce yields and eliminate their profits.

Selecting seeds that improve yields requires the ability to assess soil, climate, and management practices from fields with similar characteristics. Syngenta, a global leader in the development and production of high-quality seeds and sustainable crop protection, knew early on that data-driven decisions would lead to better outcomes for farmers.

Phase I

Creating confidence in seed selections

Skyward’s relationship with Syngenta dates to 2013 with the development of a digital seed catalog that showed which hybrids and varieties were most resistant to various diseases and appropriate for sustainable farm management practices.

This is a picture of the original home page of E-Luminate, the digital seed selection platform for Golden Harvest seeds

Early version of E-Luminate

The application was a predecessor to E-Luminate®, a sales platform that has become a digital ecosystem to support Golden Harvest® , (GH) seed sales, providing seed advisors with the data to deliver objective, transparent, evidence-based recommendations.

E-Luminate’s development was an enormous digital undertaking

Various customer data was stored across several systems; agronomy information lived in a spreadsheet, inventory in another platform. In total, the web platform had to capture, aggregate, standardize and integrate a vast volume of data from a dozen different sources, all programmed for different software applications in formats that could not easily communicate to send data back and forth.

Data tracking and mapping

Skyward first created an interoperable system architecture that served as a roadmap to consolidate data and ensure information was consistent and accurate with each new integration. Customer information was pulled in from the GH sales database and synthesized with available GPS-based agronomic data to tailor seed recommendations. The application ranked seeds by how they would perform field by field, based on such variables as desired yield, crop diversity, and weather forecasts.

This is a diagram showing the architecture of an early version of E-Luminate, the seed selection and sales platform for Syngenta's Golden Harvest brandOn the back end, the system tracked the customers’ unique entries in each of the relevant systems to ensure that every data set would remain associated with the right farm each time a new variable or activity changed, from soil fertility and crop rotation to seed innovations.

Agile development process

The scale and complexity of E-Luminate demanded continuous collaboration by internal and external stakeholders with the evolution of each new feature and function. Syngenta, Skyward, and other external developers followed an agile methodology, working as one team of companies across North America in two-week sprints as E-Luminate evolved, to keep projects on schedule and quickly pivot as opportunities emerged.

The complexity of a simple user interface

There are two sides to application development: the technical back end responsible for application functionality and data integration, and the visual front end that interacts with users. Both pose challenges that can be obstacles when developers don’t understand the implications from end to end.

E-luminate differentiates its seed advisors based on their inventory as well as customer lists, ensuring that the right seeds get recommended to the right grower, while enabling Syngenta’s customer support teams to provide knowledgeable advice to those sellers based on their situation. Users had different permissions that allowed access to different data, and they all needed a single sign-on to gain access to the portal.

Developing a visual interface that was easy to use and intuitive to navigate required an understanding of what was technically possible to provide the best user experience for sales representatives and seed advisors.

A screen grab of a simple user interface to help seed advisors quickly understand and use the E-Luminate digital platform

Navigation starts with a simple user interface

 

 

 

 

 

 

Skyward, leveraging over a decade of experience, worked with Syngenta stakeholders to create a straightforward flow that provided valuable insights quickly while still allowing deep exploration of specifics.

Thanks to end user and stakeholder feedback, E-luminate has been redesigned to put a premium on clean interfaces. Skyward created an intuitive, simple system that revolves around the sales team in order to best support the farmer.

Even though some sales reps prefer the straightforward approach, others prefer granular data in developing their recommendations. The UI had to be flexible enough to allow for both approaches to expose data at the right time to the right user.

Phase II

Introducing GamePlan

The E-Luminate platform lets seed advisors select a farmer's fields to show boundaries and a game plan to assign seeds that will best perform in each location.

Start a GamePlan

The GamePlan was the next evolution of E-Luminate, a major upgrade that made it a resource for mapping, crop planning, and data-driven decisions. Syngenta R&D and agronomists created a model that grouped trial data, soil types, weather data, and historical performance to show growers how corn and soybean varieties would perform under an array of conditions.

Product, Field, and Order GamePlans

Product GamePlans consisted of hand-selected products available to sellers in their specific areas, to provide quick seed recommendations for corn and soybeans per crop (corn, soybeans, and Enogen®) that could be turned quickly into actionable orders. These could be presented as customized marketing PDFs with comparisons and rankings specific to a sales region.

The E-Luminate platform allows seed advisors to edit crop plans.

Within GamePlan

Even more powerful was the ability to automate the process of using field data to create recommendations for the grower based on real results from similar properties. Skyward developed an algorithm that allowed a seller to prioritize the choice of hybrid based on its yield strength or focus on a diversified portfolio. The products selected could be limited by what an advisor has available to sell to his customers, or even tied directly to invoices pulled from the sales platform via API.

Phase III

The next evolution

In 2022, Golden Harvest is launching GHX by Golden Harvest®. GHX, or Golden Harvest Extreme, is a sales strategy that simplifies the way farmers buy seeds that gets growers involved in the recommendation process earlier.

Farmer unloading bags of Golden Harvest corn seed from truck for planting

Photo courtesy of Syngenta

The platform gives growers real-time data for seed management throughout the season, which helps seed advisors better understand what’s happening in those fields.

The GHX model removes the uncertainties and complexity of ordering seeds by the bag by selling seeds for a flat, per-acre price. This changes the conversation from focusing on the cost per bag to a conversation about the best planting rate for a specific field, based on the weather, soil, and what a grower needs, instead of the cost to hit a certain planting rate.

GHX: real-time data for seed management

GHX for Golden Harvest Extreme provides farmers with mobile application that enables them to get more involved in tracking and monitoring crops, with real time dataGHX also allows growers to capitalize on the density that is optimal for both the hybrid and the particular field on which it will grow. A GHX certified specialist has the opportunity to dig deep into optimized practices with a farmer, and take them through not only the sales year, but out into planting and yield.

Working across multiple development teams raises the risk that different stakeholders are unaware of different integrations. For example, testers often only test the application their team is working on, not those outside their environment. The testing process that’s usually confined to one application must get picked up and carried forward to avoid cascading errors.

GHX also necessitates changes in user experience and naming conventions to differentiate the program from the existing GH workflows, while reusing much of the same architecture and services.

Skyward has played a significant role in the development of GHX, building out the back end for the mobile development team, designing the data workflow, connecting databases, and developing new algorithms to align the technology with the new sales process.

Technical Challenges

Reengineering E-Luminate to support the GHX sales process adds more layers of complexity to a multipurpose platform

Working across multiple development teams raises the risk that different stakeholders are unaware of different integrations. For example, testers often only test the application their team is working on, not those outside their environment. The testing process that’s usually confined to one application must get picked up and carried forward to avoid cascading errors.

GHX also necessitates changes in user experience and naming conventions to differentiate the program from the existing GH workflows, while reusing much of the same architecture and services.

MaxScript

GHX’s new MaxScript feature replaces and automates a number of manual steps to gain the full benefit of applying Variable Rate Prescriptions by the acre, generating better outcomes and reducing inefficiencies associated with the buying process.

Changes to test data in an upstream-connected application can impact test data and automated testing downstream. Creating temporary ‘test’ versions of services and the data they provide can insulate against this, but there are times where it is not possible, and care must be taken to build in time to update code and tests that need to flex.

Different access control, APIs, and features

The integration of GHX within E-Luminate presents the opportunity to provide distinct features and branding, living within the same code base, differentiated by the user’s role. GH and GHX users both benefit from improvements and fixes to the functionality, but the more technical nature of the GHX program allows for a tighter, more fluid integration with other applications and services.

For example, displaying pricing within GHX changes the way a person uses the site, allowing the user to create PDFs that combine field data and pricing. These efficiencies marry critical data across the system to create a more streamlined experience.

Additionally, the integrated GHX application allows growers to interact directly with their own data, necessitating an entirely new set of APIs and access control to grant views of their farms and advice from their local seed sellers.

Performance Outcomes

E-Luminate has proven that growers who use digital tools to buy and place seeds buy more because of better service.

E-Luminate clearly made a difference in sales by seed advisors in 2020 and 2021. The top 100 E-Luminate resellers increased their sales between 9-13% across farms of all sizes over resellers who did not use the platform.

The results are even more pronounced as measured by average corn and soybean sales among E-Luminate customers.

Average corn sales in 2020 grew by 106% and by 113% in 2021. Similarly, average soybean sales by E-Luminate customers were up 60% and 62% respectively.

Chart shows a significant sales jump among seed advisors that used the E-Luminate digital platform

 

 

 

 

 

Agriculture is a business built on strong relationships and trust.

A farmer and seed advisor confer in the corn field mid way through the growing season.E-Luminate’s ability to support those relationships, while bringing in a data-driven plan that simplifies the sales process, is enabling Golden Harvest to offer customers a more productive and gratifying experience.

About Syngenta

Syngenta is a global market leader in the development and production of high-quality seeds and crop protection products. A multi-billion business, Syngenta’s customers range from large commodity crop corporations to family farms. The company has invested heavily in R&D, science and advanced technologies to help its customers in 90 countries realize improved crop yields and make more efficient use of applications. Golden Harvest® is a U.S.-based brand wholly owned by Syngenta.