Seeking Sustainability? Get Connected!

By Wendy Smith, AgGateway President and CEO

[This article is based on a presentation by Wendy Smith at the International Fertilizer Association Global Sustainability Conference, March 9.]

When you consider the sustainability challenges facing agriculture, it’s immediately clear how important digital connections have become. You need digital exchange of information:

  • To understand the movement and use of products.
  • To respond to demands from consumers and regulators.
  • And to help farmers make the best possible decisions day-to-day, year-to-year.

There are many ways to define sustainability, but I think we can agree that in general we’re talking about the wisest possible use of the best choice of resources, and the impact our practices and those resources have on the environment. Given that definition, in order to focus on sustainability in agriculture, you need to know:

  • Which product inputs are being used (including product type, unit of measure, price, etc.)
  • The details of distribution – (how much, from where, to where)
  • How and when the product is being used.
  • And the result – the effectiveness – of that use.

To answer these questions in an efficient way, you have to have digital connectivity. And to make digital connectivity possible, you have to start with standards. This includes unique product identifiers and unique location identifiers, and the rules for how you use them. You and your trading partners must identify products and organize information about them in the same way, or in ways that are interoperable, if you’re going to keep track of those products and how they’re used.

Many AgGateway resources and projects have a direct impact on tracking products and their use. AgGateway’s Ag Industry Identification System – or AGIIS – is a directory service that provides product and location identifiers that hundreds of companies use each day in making digital connections.

Using AGIIS and other resources, AgGateway teams over the past few years have created standards and guidelines for the order-to-invoice process for crop nutrition, crop protection and seed. As companies implement these standards, they enabled seamless connections with trading partners on those processes. This connectivity gives you a tremendous boost in efficiency and can have a direct and significant impact on the bottom line.

Setting up these connections has enormous benefits to efficiency. But it is also key to sustainability. Because it improves your ability to track the use of specific products in the supply chain, and to better manage your time and resources. When your company is more efficient, you can better focus on providing value to your business and your customers.

Connectivity also helps companies deal with regulatory compliance issues – more and more of which are tied in some way to traceability and sustainability. When you’re connected, you can more quickly and accurately report on product details.

Here are a few projects AgGateway is working on that I think will move the ball forward on sustainability efforts. Again, sometimes there is a direct link with managing sustainability, and sometimes it’s about freeing up a company’s resources to focus on sustainability.

We’re working to standardize data formatting for soil test results, and laboratory tests in general. It’s very difficult in precision agriculture today to quickly and easily use soil test results, because there are so many data formats in the industry. So, we’re working on a common data format across regions and platforms. I think that has major ramifications for soil health and better farming.

We’re using AgGateway’s ADAPT framework, which is an open source software project, to help with traceability. ADAPT is a pluggable toolkit to enable different hardware and software systems to link up in field operations. Working with ADAPT, we are planning a seed planting pilot this spring to help track retail-to-farm product use information. By this fall, we hope to have enhancements for crop protection and crop nutrition applications.

Meanwhile, the ag energy segment needs to improve the speed and efficiency of data exchange in the shipping and receiving of energy products between suppliers and distributors or retailers. This includes shipment data for refined fuels and other energy products. As we implement this standard, distributors and retailers will be much better able to see product and location data.

And AgGateway’s irrigation work addresses processes and data requirements that enable more effective water management, thus conserving both water and energy.

These are just a few examples. As you can see, we have a lot going on. But universal connectivity is still a long way off for agriculture. There are so many areas where improved connectivity will make our industry more efficient, and where we will be so much better equipped to tackle the challenges of sustainability.

I invite you to join AgGateway in this critical work. Make connectivity a priority, and I promise you that many wonderful things will follow, including efficiency, productivity, and, yes, sustainability.