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.
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.
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.
On 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.
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.
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.
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.
The next evolution
In 2022, Golden Harvest launched GHX by Golden Harvest®. GHX, or Golden Harvest Extreme, is a sales strategy designed to simplify the way farmers buy seeds. Instead of selling seeds by the bag, the GHX process enables farmers to pay one flat, per-acre price, reducing inefficiencies associated with the buying process. Instead, the GHX model involves deep data analytics to match the right hybrids at the right population for maximum yield and profit potential.
Removing the uncertainties and complexity of ordering seeds by the bag changes the conversation from cost to hit a certain planting rate to the best planting rate for a specific field based on weather, soil, and a grower’s needs. GHX involved intensive product testing and characterization to ensure that growers could capitalize on the optimal density for both the hybrid and the field on which it will grow.
The GHX platform replaces and automates a number of manual steps to realize the full benefit of applying Variable Rate Prescriptions by the acre. This includes real-time data for seed management, which helps both grower and seed advisor better understand what’s happening in those fields throughout the season,
Reengineering E-Luminate to support the GHX sales process added more layers of complexity to a multipurpose platform.
GHX necessitated changes in user experience, naming conventions, and sales processes to differentiate the program from existing GH workflows, while reusing much of the same architecture and services.
Different access control, APIs, and features
The integration of GHX within E-Luminate presented the opportunity to provide distinct features and branding, living within the same code base, but 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.
Challenge: Stakeholder Awareness
Working across multiple development teams raises the risk that different stakeholders are unaware of different integrations. This risk was mitigated by cross-team communication through establishment of Slack and Confluence channels and open end-of-sprint demos.
Testers generally focus on the application on which their team is working, not those outside their environment. When integration is needed, it must be picked up and carried forward to avoid cascading errors. Skyward helped to mitigate this risk by defining explicit API contracts and using unit tests to avoid changing interaction points between systems. APIs were versioned to ensure that new functionality did not impact systems not ready to update.
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.
E-Luminate has proven that growers who use digital tools to buy and place seeds buy more because of better service.
The platform 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 were 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.
Agriculture is a business built on strong relationships and trust.
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.
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.