Why API? Technology Once Virtually Unknown in the Ag Industry is Becoming Mainstream

Posted August 1st, 2018 in Publications

This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of PrecisionAg Professional magazine.

By Robin Siktberg, Custom Content Editor

As technology moves ever more into agricultural production, the need to aggregate data in meaningful ways becomes particularly necessary. Data comes in from scouts, aerial imagery, field history, weather forecasting, soil testing, and more. It needs to be meaningful to your customers, consultants, your employees, and you. While the need to compile and share data is relatively new to agriculture, it is not to other industries, who frequently use Application Programming Interface, or API, to connect and share data with other platforms and even other industries.

Paul Welbig, Director of Slingshot Services and Logistics for Raven, uses online banking as an example.

“In online banking, along with your bank account information, you may want to pull in credit card statements, or your retirement account,” Welbig says. You give your bank your credentials, and now it has access to those accounts, too. The information is aggregated into one central place, and you get a combined view of everything.”

Those various credit card companies may use entirely different software systems, but APIs make sharing information easy. It’s essentially a language that is understood by all the platforms and allows the connection. Once permissions are given, data can be exchanged.

“Our Slingshot API provides connectivity into the cab of the equipment in the field,” Welbig says. “There’s also an online suite of tools for file transfer and remote support that allows management of the fleet as it’s operating in the field. We have partnership and licensing agreements with a host of software companies such as SST, EFC, Agrian, MapShots, and others. Recommendations can be created in the software each retailer uses and sent directly to the machine that’s in the field – without needing to upload the file to a website or thumb-drive. From SST’s Summit platform, for example, you can send a recommendation to Slingshot and designate the machine it needs to go to. When the application is done, it is sent back to Summit and recorded.”

Connectivity Enhances Current Tools

A key advantage of Slingshot and other APIs is you do not need to change the software you are using to gather and track data.

“We’re not replacing what service providers are doing; we’re integrating with what they are using already, Welbig says. “Many clients have been using heir preferred software for many years, and the last thing they want to do is replace all their maps and data. That’s just not a relevant path.

“We are able to enhance the capabilities of the tool they are using by enabling more automation through their systems.”

Another advantage is being able to easily access tools and expertise in a way not possible before, Welbig says. You can’t be an expert in all fields, and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. With API connectivity, you can bring specialized tools in areas where you need them.

It’s Not Just For Crops

Many retailers think about APIs in terms of connecting the agronomy programs and maps. But they can streamline other systems such as the accounting, blending system and inventory software.

“I’ve talked with retailers who use four to five different systems,” Welbig says. “One said he has the same field at the same farm listed four different ways. When he placed an order, it went into one system. A variable rate map went into another, and information sent to the field was through another one. That means redundancy, multiple entries and a larger chance of error. Now we have the ability to exchange the data across those platforms, with the information appearing in a consistent way and place, and there’s common nomenclature. At the end of the day, you need to get the job done correctly. If you don’t have a good system, it’s easy to make mistakes, which cost money, time, and sometimes reputation.”

For many retailers, API connectivity has become a practical and efficient way to organize the work.

“A retail facility in the spring is a very busy environment,” Welbig says. “There’s only so much time, stakes are high, there’s urgency to get out to the field between rain events. There’s a lot of moving parts that need to be managed. Being able to connect technology solutions helps to manage the moving parts in an organized way to achieve the best result.”

Welbig says there was a large learning curve when API technology became available to the ag industry a few years ago.

“Raven was a pretty early pioneer in this technology,” he says. “It simply didn’t exist in the ag space then. Now it’s become more commonplace and more of an expectation. The maturity of the industry has grown to a point where if you’re not doing some of this — if you’re not enabling your customers to integrate these data sets, you’re probably not going to be around much longer, because people are expecting to be able to connect to these different systems. You want to be able to say, ‘Yes, we can facilitate a way to do that.’”