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Farmers are innovators. They grow up learning how to fix broken equipment and build things they need. John Froelich and Charles Walter Hart are good examples. They grew up in Iowa farm communities in the 1800s. Both raced to invent the gas tractor.

In 1892, Froelich invented the first gas tractor by attaching a gas engine to a steam "traction machine."  Aside from weighing too much, steam tractors sparked and caused wildfires in fields. In time, Froelich's Waterloo Gasoline Traction Engine Company became the John Deere company.

But Hart and his friend Charles Henry Parr manufactured a more marketable tractor long before John Deere became a farming power. They based their tractor on a gas engine they designed while studying mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin.

Digital Transformation of Tractors

Gas tractors made a huge change in agriculture by giving farmers a more powerful tool than the horse for pulling farm machinery. Today, Froelich, Hart and Parr might find another powerful tool fascinating. It is the use of digital technologies to support a practice called "precision farming."

Precision farming reduces labor and farm input costs while increasing yield. It does this through automation that is guided by data specific to a farm. Sensors on farm equipment gather and transmit the data. For example, many tractors today come equipped with a GPS (global positioning system), cellular connectivity for networking and a yield monitor for measuring how much is harvested in every part of a field.

Farmers pay close attention to all the factors that produce good crops and yields. These include precise use of fertilizer and crop protection chemicals to make soil more fertile and kill the various pests that damage crops. Precision farming involves using digital tools to collect huge amounts of data on crop these crop inputs, growing conditions, and yields an analyzing this data to predict the optimum amount and placement of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.

SAP is also an innovator. We are a leader in applying digital technology to the chemical and agricultural industries. SAP knows that every business is a technology business today. But before we talk more about digital farming, we should look back to the end of the 19th century.

Beginnings of Power Agribusiness

In 1900, it took about 40 hours of work to grow 100 bushels of corn. By 2000, farmers worked less than three hours to raise the same amount of corn. Tractors containing internal combustion engines powered by gas map.

The National Academy of Engineering notes that tractors with steam internal combustion engines often stuck in muddy fields. They weighed up to 20,000 tons.

Hart and Parr manufactured their first traction machine around 1902. It was much lighter than the steam tractors. In time, gas tractors pulled and powered many kinds of farm tools from planters to harvesters. These tractors sped up tasks and reduced labor costs.

Early History of Precision Farming

Precision farming began in the 1960s. Agricultural research stations experimented with a computer system called a GIS (geographic information system). Researchers used GIS to analyze the growing conditions and needs of farm fields. This became more and more important as farms merged and fields grew larger.

In the 1980s, researchers developed digital tools for monitoring crop yield and testing nitrogen while in the field. These tools became more powerful with the introduction of GPS (global positioning system). GPS mapping gives farmers a spatial sense of variations in crop yields and needs throughout a field.

By 1990, the agribusiness industry emphasized how to improve use of fertilizers and other farm chemicals. It did this through a process called "site-specific" farming. Site-specific agronomy includes limiting herbicide spraying to areas of a field where weeds appear. Farmers earlier would have sprayed the entire field.

Farmers call this practice "variable rate application" (VRA). Another VRA practice begun during the 1980s and 1990s is testing fields on-site for varying soil conditions. This is the same idea as limiting spraying of herbicides. VRA conserves resources by analyzing variations of need for fertilizer and crop protection chemicals.

Precision farming is also based on the idea of reaching out to advisors and suppliers who can share information. A process called the "digital business framework" makes communication easier.

Digital Business Framework

Agro-chemical companies need a high-performance digital platform for sharing and analyzing data and for handling transactions. Sharing may occur with clients and within the company. The platform needs to process lots of data in real time.

Your company can help agricultural clients and fill orders through the SAP HANA platform. HANA means "high-performance analytic appliance." It handles operational and transactional data on-site or through the cloud.

Here is an example of how it might work. A farmer logs on to an agriculture network looking for a particular fertilizer. The farmer provides data about his farm's needs to many suppliers including your company. Your SAP HANA platform analyzes the data and offers a solution.

The farmer places an order online. You ship it and provide tracking online. The platform bills and arranges shipping for the fertilizer. After the farmer uses it, he can send feedback via HANA. Later, you can send the farmer information about other products or promotions. You can also send rebates for future purchases.

Innovation in Your Company

Chemical companies are also innovators. Understanding precision agriculture technology can help your company expand its agro-business. SAP HANA can improve your responsiveness and outreach. Match this knowledge to your products and you can expand business through creative marketing. That is what the inventors of the gas tractor would do if they were alive today.

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