The world needs to get smarter about sustainable agriculture. According to the United Nations, the global population will reach 9.7 billion by 2050. To feed those people, experts from the World Resource Institute say food production must increase anywhere from 50 to 70 percent.

But agriculture can have devastating effects on the environment because of its thirst for water, carbon emissions from transportation, and excessive fertilizer use resulting in pollution. To meet these challenges, the Asociacion de Cooperativas Argentinas (ACA), a farming organization in Argentina, uses digital agriculture to grow food more efficiently, profitably, and sustainably.

Argentina has a longstanding tradition as one of the world’s largest agricultural producers. The country has a vast network of industrial and small-holder farmers. It is also one of the world’s top suppliers of soy, and exports large amounts of wheat, corn, fruits, and other crops. Its yield makes Argentina the perfect testing ground for organizations such as ACA to transform its agricultural sector using innovative new technologies.

ACA, founded in 1922 and based in Buenos Aires, supports over 140 cooperatives and more than 50,000 farmers across seven provinces. It helps large and small producers across the supply chain by offering supplies, advice, and services including grain storage, transport, and foreign trade assistance.

Making Agriculture More Sustainable with SAP HANA and SAP Analytics Cloud

The organization is currently building a software solution that promises to make agriculture more sustainable – both for the planet and farmers. Horacio Balussi, chief information officer for ACA, shared, “Last year we decided to create an open digital platform for farmers and others that helps them produce more with less cost and environmental impact.”

The new system uses innovative technology such as machine learning, geospatial data analysis, and cloud computing to provide farmers with real-time advice and recommendations. As Balussi explains, the challenge was to create a system that could analyze data from multiple sources in real time, gain visibility into each stage of farming, and deliver automatic recommendations to farmers.

“This is precision agriculture. We can reduce inputs and improve production. In three to four years, we hope for a 10 percent increase in production by using technology,” said Balussi.

With geospatial data from satellites and drones, the organization can monitor ambient soil conditions, which indicate fields’ potential productivity. This data can be combined with other sources, such as weather and business data, to understand real-time conditions for farmers and make smart, real-time recommendations. The system also provides ACA with an easier way to detect and prevent incidents like pest infestation or water shortages. Balussi believes this will help ACA to mitigate potentially costly damage to crops.

For a solution, ACA turned to SAP. Since the company was already an SAP customer, after implementing SAP S/4HANA as its ERP system in November 2018, the partnership enabled the organization to exploit the data already within SAP applications.

In preparation for the project, ACA participated in an early adopter program for spatial services from SAP. “SAP HANA spatial services lets us obtain and combine different data sets and then run machine learning algorithms against them to deliver definitive analytic information and create specific recommendations for farmers,” Balussi said. The solution uses the in-memory database SAP HANA and SAP Analytics Cloud – allowing ACA to easily store, distribute, and deliver information.

A team of agronomists at ACA has trained the machine learning algorithm using appropriate information for the region and the crops it supports. With such precise data, the group takes preventive action when it spots anomalies.

As the data platform matures, it will help ACA better understand the optimal conditions for cultivation on a crop-by-crop basis. “We can alert farmers that certain crops may require less fertilizer or water than used previously,” Balussi explained. “With that insight, producers can minimize both the cost of fertilizer, the use of natural resources and the environmental impact of Argentina’s agricultural sector.”

“We want to create a social network and social mapping. So a farmer can put an alert out that there’s a certain pest or disease in the region and they can easily share that information.” Farmers will also be able to compare results and other statistical information anonymously.

The Asociacion de Cooperativas Argentinas works with the Argentinian government to promote its system as an agricultural best practice and has won awards for the its commitment to sustainability. “Right now, our objective is to create a modern, digital agricultural system so farmers can produce more with few resources, while being sustainable. That is the challenge we set for ourselves.”