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How to get the most out of the data you collect

Overcome the top data usage and analysis hurdles

While farmers and their agronomists or crop advisors have the ability to collect all kinds of data using precision agriculture tools, few farmers are analyzing and interpreting the data and developing solutions themselves, which begs the question, why?

Derek Freitag.
photo: Supplied

One of the first challenges is data is housed in many different places, says Derek Freitag, market development lead with Bayer Crop Science. “Whether it’s on thumb drives, on a monitor in the combine, on a computer or in a software program, getting that data into one place so you can see it together, analyze it together and make decisions based off of the entire picture is the first step,” he says.

Getting all that data together can seem overwhelming at first for many farmers. Agronomists and crop advisors can play a large role in gathering data together and its input. These consultants can also help farmers understand what all of the data means.

“It can be quite daunting when you start to flip through various layers within a field — even within one year of production, let alone multiple years, (and) to know what to do with it,” says Freitag.

Dive right in

Matt Fagnou.
photo: Supplied

Another reason is ease of use. Farmers want systems to be more intuitive. “It needs to be like going to Google News, or using Google to search, it has to be that easy, and we are a (long way) from that point,” says Matt Fagnou, lead digital agronomist for Nutrien Ag Solutions.

Although the technology may not yet match up with farmers’ expectations in terms of useability, those who are curious about it should dive right in, says Freitag.

“Getting over the initial hump of onboarding and getting your data into the system can seem daunting, but most platforms will have great help to do that. Once you get the data in, engage in the tool, use the tool as your mode of conversation with your crop consultants, it will be much more efficient than what you do today and you’ll have better conversations,” he says.

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“With these tools, third-party consultants or agronomists know more about a grower’s field before they call them, so you get the ‘How are things going? Where are the problems?’ (conversation) out of the way because you know that already. When you call a grower, you get right down to the nitty-gritty. Once you get over that hump, they can be a great timesaver and be very efficient for growers.”

Newer platforms

Another reason farmers aren’t rushing out to invest in or learn the latest data-driven, digital analytics tools is they are often too busy and don’t have the time to learn new systems or applications.

However, there are now platforms that layer together lots of different sources of data to help farmers understand exactly what is going on in their fields, such as the Climate FieldView platform from Bayer Crop Science. The platform can aid the decision-making process when it comes to dealing with crop production issues that arise or to determine the potential effects of various scenarios on yields and profitability as the growing season progresses.


At a glance

Advice from precision ag pros includes:

  • keep your data together,
  • if needed, seek a consultant’s help,
  • sometimes it’s best to just dive right in, and
  • explore new platforms on the market that make data management, collection and analysis easy for you.

Another platform that aggregates and analyzes farm data is FieldAlytics. To date, the platform has only been available to people providing agronomy services, however, there is growing interest among farmers in using these tools themselves. One of the drags on adoption, though, is farmers don’t always know what they want from these systems.

“I don’t think there’s a universal conception of what it is growers want,” says Devin Dubois, CEO of FieldAlytics. “There are some growers who want to improve logistics. They’re concerned about things like load-tracking, or tracing inventory from the field to the bin. Those people have a different lens; they’re worried about the precision of the information. So, ‘Is the yield information coming off of my three combines accurate so that I know what’s in that bin?’ Their concerns and expectations will be different than somebody who is trying to do precise variable-rate seed application. I don’t know if there’s a uniform thing called precision agriculture that’s being adopted or not being adopted. There’s still a lot of confusion and concern about the tools.”

Developing the digital tools to bring all of that information together has taken time, says Dubois, and now the users need to catch up.

“It’s entirely possible now for anybody with a little focus to dial into this and start seeing the magic they can tease out,” he says. “There are more and more tools available to pull people into this spatialized lens on analysis and management, and then there’s a world of tools to respond in your production management. You can incorporate things like climate and historic rainfall and build projections to see what happens if you bump up the phosphorus, for example. It’s at a stage where I hope growers start to get engaged because it’s a tool that they can use.”

The next phase

The next evolution of precision agriculture is for companies to put a lot of effort into figuring out how to deliver information efficiently to farmers, and in an easy-to-understand format.

“What we see is farmers want notifications, and our systems are getting smarter with the algorithms that we’re building and the machine-learning that we’re putting into place, so that they can get notifications about events they need to be aware of,” says Fagnou. “They’re not necessarily doing the evaluation themselves, but the system provides information for our customers in a concise format, and we are the go-between.”

About the author

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Angela Lovell

Angela Lovell is a freelance writer based in Manitou, Manitoba. Visit her website at http://alovell.ca or follow her on Twitter @angelalovell10.

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