PGG Gets Their Holy Grail
"Stratos captured the vision of what we were trying to achieve."
– Andy Dumbleton, PGG Wrightson Seeds
Leading proprietary seeds producer PGG Wrightson Seeds turned to Stratos Technology Partners to write the “Holy Grail” of statistical analysis packages that supports its world-class researchers.
Cultivating global success
PGG Wrightson Seeds has extensive research facilities, logistics and distribution networks to service companies in New Zealand, Australia, South America, USA and Europe. Operations span new cultivar creation, seed production, storage, treatment, mixing and distribution. The company treats and stores more than 100,000 tonnes of seed each year.
It leads the market in temperate regions for forage ryegrass, tall fescue, white clover, forage brassicas and herbs. In conjunction with AgResearch, PGG Wrightson Seeds has developed new fungi for ryegrass and tall fescue grass for enhanced animal performance as well as improved pest resistance, grass yields and persistence.
Hunting for a material advantage
In addition to in-house plant breeding, PGG Wrightson Seeds participates in joint venture programmes with Crown Research Institutes such as AgResearch and Crop and Food Research. “We have a spread of sites from Northland to Southland to simulate everything from a dry East Coast New Zealand to a moist Southland environment as well as all sorts of different soil types,” said Andy Dumbleton, Product Development Manager at PGG Wrightson Seeds.
“Our researchers screen millions of plants, looking for that one plant that gives us a material advantage, whether it’s higher yield, pest or disease tolerance, or just a new method of cultivation. Screening is a manual and automated inspection process. Our researchers have decades of experience which gives them skill to spot what we’re looking for.
“Visual inspection isn’t accurate enough, so we have to combine it with data analysis, which also gives us the evidence to support why our varieties have a competitive advantage.”
We needed a better way
“After PGG Wrightson Seeds formed through the merging of three individual seed companies, having three systems to collect and analyse data wasn’t practical.
“Our team of more than 25 researchers used spreadsheets as the principal data collection and analysis tool. Each researcher used the spreadsheet differently to record and score their results and store their data. It made it difficult to compare results and slowed our ability to find what we were looking for.”
A responsive partner
PGG Wrightson Seeds approached five or six potential suppliers to develop a solution.
“We looked at a Canadian scientific database application for row crops such as maize, wheat, barley and other annual crops. Our perennials span 3-8 years, and we needed an analysis tool that could handle a perennial crop. Multi-site, multi-year unbalanced comparisons are the Holy Grail and there was nothing out there to handle this specialised, complex mathematical problem.”
"Stratos understood the problem we were trying to solve. These were highly technical, complex interactions. No other vendor could provide the solution."
– Andy Dumbleton, PGG Wrightson Seeds
"We previously used a statistical package called GenStat, and the team that Stratos put together had experience with GenStat, as well as the ability to meet our front-end development and reporting needs.
"Once we chose Stratos, we had weekly and biweekly meetings, lots of white-boarding the business process. Stratos picked it up quite quickly. The whole team was located in the same city so it was easy, when something got complicated, to get everyone in the same room.
"What stood out was Stratos’ response times. All software development involves bugs, and although quick fixes weren’t critical – it’s not a finance or accounting package where, if it stops, everything else stops, too – they still made bugs go away quickly."
We got the Holy Grail
"The program Stratos wrote hid all the GenStat statistical analysis and gave our researchers a user-friendly data collection, analysis and reporting tool.
"We wanted data integrity and consistency between sites and researchers, and the ability to summarise an entire breeding programme on one page, so we could select the best potential line for commercial sales. And that’s what we got.
"Stratos is really good. Developing your own software shouldn’t be done lightly. Off-the-shelf stuff is supported, and you don’t have responsibility for fixing it. But in our case, what we wanted couldn’t be bought off the shelf.”
“Our key indicator of success is whether our world-class researchers use it. For about a year, we had both the old and new systems working in parallel. Now no one uses spreadsheets anymore.”