Proagrica, the digital agriculture business within the RELX company, was formed in 2016 through the consolidation of a number of agribusiness software brands including the F4F and DBT brands, and more recently the SST business in the US.
Managing director Graeme McCracken explains how the company is an independent partner for global agriculture and animal health businesses, with a mission to help the industry become more connected; more grounded in data and insight and to unlock measurable value to every link in the supply chain. In practice, this means smoother workflows, increased productivity, greater returns, and actionable data and analytics.
Mr McCracken had worked for RELX (formerly Reed) companies for 28 years across multiple industries, but in coming to agriculture, he was astonished to discover that farming and animal health has more data than any other market.
He says Proagrica’s challenge is to make better use of all this data in agriculture, whether it originates from a farm, from distribution, or from the retail end of the supply chain. At the same time, it is working to unlock and use data from a whole range of different devices and formats, with different businesses often running a wide variety of legacy ERP packages.
The core Proagrica strategy is to assist agriculture and animal health businesses drive better visibility of what’s going on – from handling farm management data to promoting and streamlining everyday commerce. This enables the farmer, agronomist or animal health adviser to focus on their core business.
There are three elements to the strategy: the network, workflow solutions and analytics, but all three are cross-related, says Mr McCracken.
The Proagrica network is built on two decades of cumulative development, based around the integration solutions from the F4F acquisition that provide the day-to-day connectivity that enables seamless trading. The acquisition of SST Software last year added a second network, the agX platform, a geospatial network capable of inch-level granularity including real-time mapping and field recording capabilities which together offer comprehensive visibility across hundreds of millions of acres – right down to square inch level. The combination of these two networks now covers both day-to-day commercial activities together with a ground-level up geospatial capacity – providing real time vision of what is going on in the field and in the business.
Complementing the network are a range of workflow solutions– such as rebate management, e-commerce and inventory management – providing near 360° visibility of business operations in real time to increase both productivity and profitability.
Bringing all this together enables Proagrica to provide full insight into these businesses, linking farm data from crop and livestock enterprises to the supply chain and beyond in a seamless manner. By connecting all the touch points between farmers and distributors, the efficiency, provenance and profitability of the whole supply chain is improved.
For example, in agronomy, the network can offer pest and disease predictions by drawing on field level agronomy data and wider weather and ground conditions via satellites. With this information, an agronomic prescription can be automatically generated and sent to a farm manager’s mobile device, while notifying the distributor that a certain product will be required. Thus, the product can be on-farm when needed, the sprayer ready, and the product applied at the optimum time to prevent a likely outbreak, rather than reacting ad hoc to the disease’s appearance – a seamless way for the sector to protect crops in the field.
Sustainability is increasingly important – squeezing more from less – and disease prediction and yield forecasting will have a great impact here. Wider insight into the food chain will help – for example – digital records of field treatments rather than burdensome paper trails. There is growing concern over soil health and its management – another area where the network can help.
Equally, in animal agriculture, digital tools will be able to measure the effect of different diets and treatments on milk production or carcass quality – as well as helping to adapt to different regulatory systems across countries. There is already work on antibiotics vs vaccines in beef production, with data-driven insight showing that some producers react to a disease outbreak with a vaccine treatment, rather than using the vaccine to prevent the condition in the first place.
Mr McCracken likens the offer to a digital ag ecosystem, one that facilitates the supply chain’s connections, and helps different links in the chain to work together to deliver a better service to their partners and customer – a win for the entire supply chain.
He emphasises that Proagrica is not trying to act as a distributor or get into the supply of agricultural inputs, but to act independently from the supply chain and better facilitate the industry through improved business networks and workflows.
There are wide and complex business challenges in this industry, concludes Mr McCracken. It is tough being a farmer or an agricultural supplier. In summary, Proagrica’s role is to help those agribusinesses service their customers better – through products, quality and customer service – with the latter two driving the value and differentiation.
Proagrica views itself as an industry partner, not seeking to sell inputs, but to help supply chain businesses drive profitability, revenue, service levels and customer satisfaction.