If you’ve been taking a closer look at precision ag and data collection, you’re not alone. Farmers are focused on what types of data can be collected, how to collect it and what it can be used for on their farms.
Trevor Scherman, a Battleford, Sask.-area grain farmer, started collecting data years ago for a few reasons: he wanted to improve his profitability by five per cent every year, to provide his accountant with up-to-date information, to keep his banker informed about how he was doing on the balance sheets and (most importantly) to answer to his wife, who has an agricultural economics degree.
Scherman also started collecting data to settle an argument. At the time, he and his father, Pat, were trying to figure out how much canola loss was coming out of the back of the combine.
“We needed data to settle that argument and turn it into a conversation,” Scherman said during his presentation to farmers and industry at Ag in Motion (AIM) Discovery Plus (AIMDP) last July called, “Data Collection, Why Bother?”
He acknowledged many farmers are interested in data collection but are not sure about the return on investment. To those farmers who question collecting data, he pointed out numerous benefits, including the ability to treat areas of high and low profitability differently. “You can take that data and … do variable rate, maybe spray fungicide in certain spots — it gives you another layer to check things on your farm and do better,” he said.
Scherman is focused particularly on data collected from combine harvesters and combine loss analysis. These types of data can provide striking insight on harvest operations, which can be applied to management decisions with immediate effects on profits. For example, said Scherman, data on combine harvester losses can save farmers tens of thousands of dollars. Even a one-bushel-per-acre loss of canola at $10 per acre on a 2,000-acre farm is $20,000.
Scherman and his father knew they were losing canola out the back of the combine, but they didn’t know how much. They set about finding a relatable figure — in bushels per acre — to those losses. “We started dropping pans and calculating feet in an acre to grams in a bushel. It was very time-consuming…. We knew we had to simplify it, make it easier to do and make it more accurate so it was consistent. Every time we made a change we could prove we were doing it the right way. We correlated loss to bushels per acre, which we all understand.”
From this experience, Scherman and his father founded ScherGain. They help farmers calibrate their combines and they’ve created a combine loss analysis device called the ScherGain Solution System. Essentially, the device is a pan that can be mounted on any combine model, of any colour, and doesn’t need any other attachments. Here’s how it works: you drop the pan when the combine is being operated, clean the sample, measure the sample in the provided gauge (it looks like a rain gauge) and check the supplied reference chart for bushel loss per acre. You don’t need an app, calculator or scale to figure out losses. The simple, safe and easy system costs under $2,000, including the pan.
Calibration is the key to unlocking the data.
Why? Accurate data is critical — bad data in, bad data out, said Scherman. “Have you calibrated the moisture meter, yield monitor or loss monitor? All that data is there, but it needs to be calibrated…. Currently your loss monitor was probably set at the factory or in the parking lot of the dealership.”
He added, “If you set your combine for maximum throughput, then the losses are a small calculation in that algorithm. It figures out how it can put the most product through with losses being a small fraction of the equation…. It’s not worried about how much grain is going in the tank, but how many acres an hour. Other factors — yield, fuel consumption, horsepower — these are all parts of the equation we need to dial in.”
Setting your combine and knowing your losses is the most money per hour you will ever make farming, he said. Every major manufacturer provides built-in automations and data collection abilities. Data is readily available on yield, moisture, diesel consumption, productivity and losses. Farmers using the equipment and devices they already own is a great place to start for taking advantage of data collection.
“What if I told you that you could make an extra two bushels on all of your canola acres and spend no extra money? It’s taking the time and using the devices you currently have properly. It is that easy. Take the time to do a simple calibration and then you will actually know what your combine is doing and have confidence in your monitors.”
Is the data you collect providing you with information that is driving profits? I’d love to hear from you. Please contact me with your insights at [email protected] or 204-801-1645.
Take care and stay healthy this season,