This is part two of a two-part look at putting data to work. In this installment we explore more details of how data can be used, and how that may change the way you manage on the farm. Don't miss part 1.
Farmers reading this who question whether employees will use their smartphones to log work orders may think there will be resistance to the idea. “Some are resistant — and there are some operators that don’t even have an email address, and farmers think they won’t use the system,” says Adam Litle, vice president, customer success, Granular. “We are pleasantly surprised that those same operators come to work in the morning and the first thing they ask is, ‘Where’s my work order?’ ”
He explains this process provides organization and consistency in day-to-day operations.
Creating cost-based actual information for a farm isn’t easy, but what would that value be to your operation? Rick Murdock, head of Ag Connections, a wholly owned subsidiary of Syngenta and part of the AgriEdge Excelsior program, shares insight into ways data can be put to work on the farm.
The company helps farmers pull information into the system and track crop production costs. “Our field-level work flows from plans — scouting to work orders to applications; pull these data sets together so you know your numbers,” Murdock says.
“We don’t do precision ag spatial analysis,” Murdock says. “We have a software system that contains all of the user’s field-level base data that is capable of integrating to any precision ag software product. Our focus is on pulling field-level spatial information from MyJohnDeere and AFS Connect from Case IH, and then sending the spatial data on to the Precision Ag software products as we do with our current integration partner, Premier Crop Systems. We believe spatial agronomic recommendations are local and need to be driven by local retail agronomists, consultants or grower agronomists: We know crops grow best when they are seen by the agronomist!”
Murdock adds that with that information, it’s possible at any time in the season to quickly see in the software actual cost versus plan to determine if there are issues. “We can run a contribution margin report that takes revenue and subtracts variable costs on every field, and show the profit going to pay for fixed costs” Murdock says. “This is how you keep the lights on.”
That integration of information is critical, and all the big players who want to work with farmers to provide in-depth, real-time information have come up with their own way to capture information. For some it’s the application program interface, and major equipment firms offer APIs to allow third parties to access information. Granular, Conservis, Ag Connections and others that aren’t in the equipment business work with those to integrate information.
Others in the industry — FarmLogs, The Climate Corp. and Farmers Edge, for example — have developed ISOBUS connections that capture and transmit real-time information from machine to cloud, allowing some type of real-time access. Conservis and Granular, however, track actions through smartphone-based work orders that are also linked to purchase- and inventory-use reports within the system.
The net result? It’s possible to pull your information from a variety of equipment into a single management tool to create better cost and inventory control and improved labor management, and have a real-time look at how your business is actually running.
And the value of these services, no matter which you pick, depends on your own input and energy for the changes required. Yet you’ll also have the benefit of critical benchmarking tools — so if you’re trying to figure out a specific management issue, you can lean on the bulk of data from what others are doing.
“We had two large producers in here recently,” Conservis’ Christie notes. “Both believed they ran their operations in a unique way. After a thorough discussion, they both realized their processes weren’t that different.” This is key because it means that the system can be used on a variety of operations; and benchmarking data has value across several farms.
Another value of these services — and it’s part of that due diligence — is the help a farmer gets up front and through the relationship. Patrick Crampton, chief operating officer, Farmers Edge, explains that “when it comes to getting data in, we have real boots on the ground and precision technologies that will go to your farm to help make it happen.”
He adds that bringing the data into one place “is the important part, and our staff works with your equipment or farm to pick up the flash drives or help out getting that data manually into the system with older equipment.”
Farmers Edge also has its own CanPlug device, which captures data in real time. The cellular device transmits information into a data cloud for access by Farmers Edge software. “The key beyond having the right data is making sure that you’re getting accurate as-applied information, that the task really happened. The CanPlug allows growers to access the best and highest-quality data as it’s collected,” he says.
The company also has its own global network of field-centric weather stations that captures key information for critical decision-making on the farm, including: critical crop stages, the timing of field operations, pest and disease pressure, equipment deployment, soil needs and nutrient requirements.
In essence, the ag industry has a wide range of service choices out there, which puts the onus back on you to determine which will be the right fit for your operation. The choice won’t be easy. Elsewhere, you’ll find some help in evaluating your choices.
Big Data resource guide
What follows are links to some key players in the industry who are rolling now and offer a range of services for you to consider. We’re sticking to those that go beyond the agronomic to more management-focused information services. They are listed in alphabetical order (and this is not a comprehensive list).
• Ag Connections LLC. This is a wholly owned subsidiary of Syngenta. The Land.db system is the technology component of the Syngenta AgriEdge program. The AgriEdge program has been on farms all over the USA since 2002. Visit agconnections.com.
• Agrible. This Champaign, Ill., based firm works to turn data into useful information and is also associated with a wide range of other data-based services. Learn more at agrible.com.
• Conservis. This Minnesota-based firm offers a full-service approach to resource planning. Learn more at conserviscorp.com.
• Farmers Business Network. This is a data management service that also aggregates information to provide farmers powerful benchmarking tools and whole-farm analysis information. Learn more at farmersbusinessnetwork.com.
• Farmers Edge. Based in Canada, but also working in the United States and globally, the company offers a suite of precision agriculture and independent data management tools. Learn more at farmersedge.ca.
• FarmLogs. This farmer-focused business startup has expanded its services, including FarmLogs Flow, an ISO-based data-gathering tool to get information from the field to the system more easily. Learn more at farmlogs.com.
• Granular. This farm management system offers farmers in-depth resource planning and financial management. Learn more at granular.ag.