Agriculture is not a sector that is traditionally associated with cutting edge technology, but since time immemorial, farmers have been quick to turn to those technologies that could help them improve yields and be more efficient. Today, data analytics is offering agricultural businesses new ways to improve production.

The South African Cane Growers Association (SA Canegrowers), a statutory body which represents sugar cane growers in South Africa, has historically had to rely on piecemeal data provided by its members, many of whom did not have the capabilities to supply more than averages and estimates.

John Moll, Knowledge and Information Manager at SA Canegrowers, explains that because many of their members run relatively small operations, the Association had very little insight into their businesses.

“In the past, we had a number of information-related challenges, ranging from identifying members that had duplicate or incorrect data, to the use of incorrect codes. Our members would periodically get together in ‘town hall’ type meetings, but there was no other way for us to gain a better understanding of their needs and their businesses,” Moll says.

The SA Canegrowers decided to invest in an analytics solution to help get a better understanding of their members, and to help improve its offering. After having evaluated a number of analytics solutions, SA Cangrowers chose Splunk, an international leader in analytics. They turned to local Splunk Elite Partner Atvance Intellect to assist with the implementation.

“We are appreciating the value of information for the first time, in an age where data is the new oil. We now have much more insight into who our members are, and what they need from us. Atvance Intellect has been an amazing partner, providing us with support above and beyond the call of duty, and the team is helping us learn more about what we can do with the data. For example, we would like to start trying to predict market prices and evaluate growers’ costs,” Moll says.

He adds that the initial project focused on demographic and spatial data, and that as the SA Canegrowers has gained more insight as a result of analytics, they have expanded how they use it, and envisage this tool as being integral to supporting funding applications by being able to provide up-to-date industry metrics.

Another area where the SA Canegrowers has seen great results is in the logistical data provided by members. The Association was collecting a great deal of data from member organisations, but that this was mostly in the form of spreadsheets. Collecting thousands of files containing thousands of sugar cane deliveries from  14 independently managed sugar mills presented a significant challenge in terms of the consistency in which the data was formatted, Moll adds.

Enlin Neveling, Senior Solutions Manager for Data Analytics at Atvance Intellect, says that Splunk offered the perfect solution to enable the SA Canegrowers to collect this data in near real time and provide growers with visibility into their sugarcane deliveries. “Splunk’s Data-to-Everything Platform is built for real-time unstructured data, and its use of emerging technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence enables organizations to gain smart insights that deliver the potential to shift an organisation from reactive to proactive decision-making,” he explains.

“SA Canegrowers needed to turn their unstructured data into insghts, that would allow growers better visibility into a critical part of their respective businesses which is the successful delivery of their products to the respective mills. Leveraging our experience in collecting unstructured data and leveraging Splunk’s schema-at-read capabilities ensured all data irrespective of format remained  usable and valuable long after it has been collected, we were able to create a solution that allows SA Canegrowers to instantly obtain the information they need, in as much granularity as is necessary.”

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