Making the most of ag data collection

Planning ahead and knowing what you’re trying to capture will set the stage for next season

Analyzing the kind of growing season they’ve had has always been an important way for farmers to continually improve their operations.

This could be as simple as documenting yield data and for many farmers, that may still be all they are doing. But as we move into a more precision-based agriculture, the more data points we have, the better.

Lydia Parker comes from a long line of farmers in Ontario. She studied agriculture at the University of Guelph and in her role as a field product specialist for Climate FieldView, she helps farmers maximize their data collection.

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“Good data collection is something we try to preach,” said Parker. “At the end of the day, if you don’t collect good data, you can’t get good answers.”

So, what is “good data?” If you’re just entertaining this question now, your options might be limited, but if the goal is to improve the profitability of your operation in the future, then planning for better data collection next year, can be a step in the right direction.

“Data collection, no matter what it looks like, is extremely important,” Parker said. “If all you’re collecting is your harvest data, that’s great. Quite frankly, it’s better than nothing. But if you can collect harvest data along with planting data, then all of a sudden it tells a way better story.”

Good data is all about context. With only harvest data, you might be able to determine which of your fields were most productive. But without context, that data isn’t particularly useful. However, even if you have been capturing only harvest data, but have been doing so for several years (i.e. more data points), trends start to emerge. By simply including the context of time, this data becomes much more useful.

Nevertheless, if this is all you’ve been doing, then you’re missing some opportunities to maximize potential. While harvest data is arguably the most important information collected, it is more impactful when combined with other data collected throughout the season. This could mean your planting data, your spray data, and your fertility data, whether you used tillage – these are all things that can affect how things turn out at the end of the year.

“If all we have for a specific field is a yield number, it’s hard to make decisions from that if, let’s say, there were two hybrids planted in that field,” said Parker. “If we don’t have those planting layers, it’s really hard to make the most sense out of what your yield data looks like.”

But data collection doesn’t have to stop with big-picture items. Anecdotal pieces of information (photographs, scouting notes, etc.) can also help provide context.

“Those little pieces of information are the meat of the story,” says Parker. It can be as simple as documenting differences in emergence in various parts of a field. “You may not know if you’re going to need them, or what role it could play down the road. But if there’s something of interest just capturing a couple of notes or capturing a photograph potentially serve a purpose for explaining why something happens down the road,” she said.

It’s likely becoming clear that managing of all that data is going to be a challenge. Parker’s company, Climate FieldView has placed itself to streamline the data collection and analysis process.

FieldView is a digital tool. It has a website interface that growers can interact with, along with two apps – one that manages data collection and storage and the other that provides analysis.

“We have a little device that’s called the FieldView Drive, that looks like a little hockey puck, and it screws into the CAN port of various pieces of equipment,” explains Parker.

Depending on the activity the drive can record things such as yield data, moisture levels, or how many seeds are going down in a specific part of the field.

“Basically, as it’s travelling through the field, it is recording all of the various data points and then making maps out of them,” says Parker.

Of course many growers may be using older equipment that isn’t outfitted with a CAN port so there are options for growers to input information manually.

The company also offers local weather data over the course of the growing season that tracks factors that might affect productivity, like downpours or early frosts. It also provides satellite imagery.

“We work with various satellite providers.

“They provide us with NDVI images that we process in house and then give back out to our customers.” The NDVI images track how biomass in the field is changing throughout the season.

“One of our pillars is about getting all of your data into one place,” Parker said. “A farmer might have their sales bill from when they purchase seed; they might work with a custom person to do their spraying; they might jot notes down in a notebook or they may text things to their agronomist.”

Basically, there are almost an unlimited number of places where data points get stored.

“It’s about putting all the puzzle pieces together,” said Parker.

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