Hacking agriculture with PGG Wrightson

harvest time.jpg
We recently facilitated a hackfest with PGG Wrightson focused on paperless and mobile processes. PGG Wrightson is a leading provider to the agricultural sector, a mission to “help the country grow”. The hackfest provided an ideal opportunity to bring together people from right across PGG Wrightson, to understand how technology can help them act with speed and agility and focus on being customer centric.

Seven Theta consultants worked alongside PGG Wrightson staff across three hackfest teams, with most building working prototypes of their respective solutions in just two days.

Natural born farmers test out PowerApps

Team “Natural Born Farmers” was tasked with using PowerApps automate a paper-based process, and opted to digitise a paper form used on farm by livestock agents. The chosen form is currently filled out manually and subsequently faxed, copied to cardboard, and duplicated several times.

The team created a Dynamics 365 instance and populated it with actual data representing the transactions.  They then built a PowerApp to allow agents to enter data electronically, so the information was visible to everyone instantly – all from their mobile device.

In addition the team:

  • demonstrated the app to agents and incorporated their feedback back into the app.
  • visited a field site to test responsiveness and connectivity of the app on site
  • put together a compelling cost-benefit analysis of rolling out the solution
  • prepared a presentation for the judging panel.

User feedback: “the big bonus is the traceability”, “Can I see everything? Yes!”

Comments from the judging panel were extremely positive with the team was pronounced winner on the day.

Team PyneTree builds a general purpose bot

bot on apple watch
bot on apple watch

Team PyneTree used the Microsoft Bot Framework to make a bot for Teams, Skype, web chat, and the Apple Watch that could solve several different identified problems. The main goal was to show how bots could be used in different scenarios to reduce waste and provide another relatively low cost channel of service.

bot mockups

The first problem the bot addressed was inefficiency and cost associated with employee travel. Employees would tell the bot where they’re going and when, and the bot notified them when there were others with similar needs so they could share a rental car or taxi.

seed calculator

The bot can also perform calculations, replacing PGG Wrightson’s little blue notebook of tables for calculating things like seed sowing rates and animal gestation periods. Making this bot available on the Apple Watch made it a portable solution for the field, so farmers don’t have to do the mental math every time. We also considered a SMS channel which would probably be more realistic, and putting the calculations on a mobile app for offline support.

Thirdly, the bot could act as a service directory, providing a menu of services for infrequent tasks that employees might have trouble remembering the process for, like ordering a new uniform or reporting a near miss.

Augmented reality for agriculture: Team InteleAG 

PGG Wrightson has field representatives across the country who help farmers by visiting their farms and advising them on action they might need to take or products they might need to buy. Because of New Zealand’s geography,  these reps can spend up to four hours per day driving. 

Team InteleAG envisioned an augmented reality application that would allow field representatives to see through the eyes of the farmer – they could look at crop disease up close, communicate with the farmer through an augmented reality device like a HoloLens, and push information such as product images and interactive sales confirmations through to the farmer instantly.  This would mean more time helping farmers and less time on the road.

the augmented reality opportunity

Innovation & collaboration

Says Peter Brook, Enterprise Architect at PGG Wrightson:

“The hackfest was a great way to bring together people from right across our organisation to drive innovation, and apply technology to solve some of the everyday problems we face. It was great working with the team from Theta, and seeing how far the collaboration could take us. Seeing the working prototypes after just two days was pretty cool.”