While soil, water, and sun are the time-honored elements in growing fresh fruits and vegetables, produce companies worldwide are adding intelligent data to the recipe for the highest yields that ultimately satisfy hungry consumers. Mapping supply – meaning crops grown and harvested – to demand is no easy task. Whether they own the farming land or work with a network of independent growers, fresh produce companies are up against increasingly extreme weather, supply chain volatility, and an uncertain business environment.
“Fresh produce organizations and their partners are rapidly moving from experience-based to data-driven farming,” said Anja Strothkaemper, global vice president of Agribusiness and Commodity Management at SAP. “SAP’s industry cloud solutions for agribusiness are designed to help fresh produce companies use data from the fields, grower contracts, and finance to make better decisions for managing the food value chain end-to-end to achieve optimal yields and higher revenue.”
Farming Innovations Start in the Field
Watching the plants just won’t cut it in a world beset by storms, droughts, and other unexpected challenges. Farmers are investing in technology to capture and act on data in the fields. For example, they can make cost-effective and yield-boosting irrigation improvements based on soil conditions and local weather forecasts. This also helps save water, which is becoming a scarce resource in many parts of the world.
In many cases, fresh produce companies working with independent growers provide farming advisory services to their growers based on historical and current field data, as well as crop and variety-specific data science models. Using SAP Intelligent Agriculture, they can replace manual spreadsheets with cloud-based, centralized field data. They can also offer digital services on a mobile platform to farmers, providing 24/7 advice for each field. The idea is to automatically capture and analyze data that helps growers make better decisions throughout the farming cycle, from planting to harvest. For fresh produce companies that have contracts with many farmers, relevant data is a way to build trusted relationships and control the quality of their supply.
Sustainability to Weather Any Market Storm
As sustainability becomes a business imperative, agribusiness is responding with climate-friendly crop protection and care. Farmers want to minimize environmentally harmful pesticides and fertilizers, and conserve valuable natural resources like water. Data that supports intelligent irrigation planning can help reduce the use of water even in the face of droughts. Real-time soil analyses can help farmers use less fertilizer and pesticides, saving costs while reducing crop loss risk.
Connected data also supports innovation and agility, providing fresh produce researchers with updated information as they explore new varieties resistant to evolving weather conditions. They can track yields against regional demand, adjusting planting strategies as market tastes shift and producing higher-revenue varieties at the right time.
Deep Partnerships Extend Food Value Chain Innovation
The food value chain is wide and deep, making partner collaboration another essential ingredient for fresh product companies.
“SAP’s strategy is to provide customers with a cloud-based platform that allows them to build intelligence by collaborating with partners for optimized end-to-end processes,” said Strothkaemper. “That’s why we’re partnering to extend co-innovation using SAP Business Technology Platform (SAP BTP), offering tools and technology to partners so they can extend SAP solutions and build complementary industry cloud applications.”
Numerous agritech startups are working with SAP to explore untapped opportunities and develop solutions for sustainable agriculture. One example is Clarifruit, a participant in SAP.iO Foundry Paris, that developed a mobile app to automate quality control based on the size and color of fresh fruits and vegetables in real time. Clarifruit’s latest innovation, recently announced in beta version, expands the platform’s capabilities to automate the identification of defects.
“Automating quality control with real-time data provides inspectors along the food value chain with objective and consistent information, allowing sellers to get the price they expect and buyers the quality their customers demand,” said Elad Mardix, CEO at Clarifruit. “With early visibility into the quality of fresh produce, growers, wholesalers, and retailers along the supply chain can reduce quality mismatch and rejections, helping decrease waste and increase profits.”
Data Intelligence Cuts Through Complex Food Value Chain
It’s impossible to talk about the farm-to-consume value chain without mentioning supply chain. Storing and transporting perishable foods like fruits and vegetables requires integrated data across warehouses and vast transportation networks. Looking to the future, Strothkaemper envisioned fully connected data from fields through planning, planting, and harvest to supply chain transport and delivery.
“Imagine if fresh produce companies could digitally link what’s happening in the farming fields with supply chain planning to better meet retailer demands,” said Strothkaemper. “You may have enough apples to meet orders in the system, but do you have the transportation capacity to pick them up and can the warehouse store and pack them? Our vision is to help fresh produce companies connect the farm-to-consume data silos between growers, fresh produce companies, and transportation service providers. With connected, intelligent data, companies gain more control in an unpredictable environment.”
Susan Galer is a communications director at SAP. Follow me @smgaler.