Real-time Analytics for Better Farming Decisions

Technology has changed farming dramatically in the last two generations. With the help of FarmLink®, a new generation of tech-savvy farmers are now able to use data science to more accurately conduct yield forecasting, land evaluation and grain marketing.

DTN MarketVision, powered by FarmLink, gives farmers and land owners access to grain marketing technology all in one place. Farmers can use this tool for insights on when to sell their grain, along with real-time updates on crop yield potential and risk management data.

Farmers running the web-based app on their PCs or iPads are now able to make informed decisions on critical issues like whether to scale up or scale down production, adjust irrigation, and better predict when to market their grain. In other words, a constantly updated view of their farms’ output potential.

A Very Tight Time Frame for Development

Getting MarketVision to market wasn’t easy and required a great working relationship between FarmLink and MATRIX using some of the latest technologies and Agile software development processes.

“We had an existing relationship with MATRIX supporting another app called Discovery,” said Jane Tuck, Product Development Manager at FarmLink. “They were already embedded in our business and understood the fundamentals of what we were trying to do”, she said. “That experience was such a good one that it was easy to discuss a larger relationship.”

With a looming deadline to deliver a working product at a winter industry conference, FarmLink knew they had to expedite an SDLC originally estimated at 12 months --- to something less than half that time.

Solid Team Using the Latest Technologies

Darryl Allardice, MATRIX .NET Practice Lead, was brought in to manage the project. “Early on they were aggressive with their plans,” he said. “They wanted us to bring on a lot of people because they knew this was a big project and it would be a challenge to do this in a short time.”

MATRIX believed that simply scaling development resources wasn’t the answer. Finding solid developers, giving them the latest technology tools, surrounded with Agile processes, was the key.

“I can’t say enough about the quality of people they added to the team,” said Tuck. “Every single individual was a good fit and meshed well. They were as invested as we were and showed the same amount of interest and curiosity that I would expect my own teams to show.”

“I can’t say enough about the quality of people they added to the team. They were as invested as we were and showed the same amount of interest and curiosity that I would expect my own teams to show.”

Front-end React JavaScript Library

Teams were divided into front-end and back-end development groups working independently.

MarketVision is a Single-Page Application which the team implemented using the React JavaScript library. The component-based nature of React allowed for an easy and quick transition from UI mockups to UI implementation by enabling the team to quickly break down the user interface into reusable components. In addition, React's small API footprint and promotion of unidirectional data flow allowed the team to move quickly with the implementation and back-end service integration of each of the components.

Back-end ASP.NET Web API Framework

The website back-end was implemented using the ASP.NET WebAPI framework. With the team’s strong background in .NET technology, using WebAPI to support this application was a natural choice. This framework made it easy to expose RESTful services which served out complex sets of agricultural and financial data provided by stored procedures in a SQL Server database.

It also provided powerful routing and parameter binding capabilities to support all the interactions needed by the front-end, while at the same time putting all the server-side power of .NET frameworks and the C# language at the team’s fingertips.

The MATRIX team has wrapped up the last remaining PSAPs to help the customer complete the final 2016 requirements, months ahead of schedule.

UI/UX: Drilling Down into the Data

Concurrent with the app development, the MATRIX UI/UX team created hundreds of wireframes and mockups to support the many screen variations needed to properly visualize all the data presentations required. The three graphic designers worked hard to stay one sprint ahead of the development group, so they could match the development pace, while also accommodating the inevitable changes that would occur.

MATRIX UI/UX Practice Lead Ryan Wright said his team had to balance the need to show a lot of dense data with desire to have a simple-to-use interface. “Typically an app doesn’t have the magnitude of dense data that MarketVision does,” he said. “All these different ways to view and access data created some really complex screens. The client wanted users to be able to drill into one specific field, or view aggregated data from all the fields. And to do it with minimal clicks and easy navigation that wasn’t confusing even for novice users.”

Focusing on the Right Issues

Facilitated by a MATRIX coach, Agile training reinforced the basics of scrum --- how to create and maintain product backlog, prioritize backlog, set up two-week sprints, and how sprints tied into the backlog and meetings such as sprint planning and perspectives.

“At the speed we were moving, we had to be super Agile with teams running at their own pace and not waiting for others,” said MATRIX Solutions Consultant Nathen Grass.

Product owner Tuck did a great job focusing all the teams on the right business issues while other project issues were in flux.

“Agile gave us much more than waterfall,” said Tuck. “If we had tried waterfall, we would not have seen concessions early enough to make the date. With Agile, everybody was aware where we were at all times, and what was minimally viable.”

“The constant communication that is inherent to an Agile team was certainly refreshing and reassuring when we were running on all cylinders. It made it easier to see things coming together every day,” she added.

What's the result?

MarketVision made it to the show and its launch has been well received by the industry. Its performance and stability are all excellent (described as “speedy and snappy even though it is very dense with data” by Allardice.)

And Agile seems to have found a permanent place at Farmlink too. “I think we will continue to use Agile, said Tuck. “ There may be some things we modify, but you definitely get the right sense of urgency when you come in every day and get to work in the Agile format. You never let your foot off the gas because the work and the deadlines are right there in front of you.”