Making sense of data - while not easy there will be a payback

In February I wrote a story about the continuing journey of getting data from field to office. It's not easy, but more steps are being taking to help you. Yet that process brings with it other questions like: Is it worth the trouble?

I've spoken with a wide range of companies on the matter and my first conclusion is "yes" collecting the information is worth it. We are still faced with the challenge of what to do with it. But investing in good, calibrated yield data with consistent information has value. The challenge is that you may not realize that value for some time.

As part of that process, there's something else you may want to consider - what kind of business do you run in your operation? A master data system that's supposed to help you manage your information and provide decision-making tools would be great, but are you ready for that?

Perhaps the best question to ask yourself is this: What are my business goals? And if you can answer that beyond grow more corn or push up my volume of soybeans, you may be moving toward the potential healthy relationship with a data decision support system provider.

This data Wild Wild West we're playing in means everyone wants to play a role - from farm equipment to crop protection companies. Nothing wrong with that, the key is to find the tools and support that's right for your business and if it's a collection of systems they need to cross-communicate easily. Another challenging task, for sure.

Frankly, the first steps you want to take are the basics of your management focus. Do you already run scenarios on your business using what-if simulations in Excel - though they take a ton of time? Are you looking for a work order system for better tracking of tasks being done throughout your business to better track employee time, and the work they do?

These early questions, and reshaping your management around them, will help you prep to maximize the high-end data decision tools under development. So here are three questions to ask yourself:

1. Are you running your farm like a structured business with well-defined goals and objectives?

This is key - you can't do much with data if you don't know what you're trying to accomplish in your own farm business. Sounds like commonsense, and you may know these things in your head. Writing them down and being able to articulate them will be important.

2. What is your relationship with employees in your business?

Sounds simple, but the higher end management systems require employees to record tasks - usually using a simple smart phone application - and capturing key information like start and end times, amount applied and other information is critical. There are tools from some systems that capture this automatically - but may still require employees or machine operators to hit "start" and "stop" for maximum accuracy in record-keeping.

The relationship should extend to other providers - like agronomists and retailers you work with too. How well you work with outside providers of products and services to your operation will be important to capturing accurate data.

3. How patient are you?

We're in the early stages of this process. If you're not patient and willing to invest as much effort on your end as your provider, this could be a challenge. However, it depends on the trusted partner and how they work with you in the end. Patience is still important when it comes to maximizing this tech. And the payoff will be solid in the end.

Analyzing whether specific practices will pay off, managing inventories for improved margins, and even more precise reporting for improved decision-making for the future are all benefits of these new systems as they come into the market.

Of course, we don't want to be Pollyanna about this - we're still in the very early days of maximizing farm data, but getting your farm business mindset in line with what's coming can offer you some significant advantages for the future.

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