This article was written by Kinsie Rayburn, Conservation Knowledge Officer for Trust In Food. Learn more at trustinfood.com.
Profitability and productivity are key components to the survival of a farm operation, and efficiency is a key variable in calculating how profitable and productive an operation is. To perform those calculations, reliable data is needed.
There has been a lot of talk and proof points about how farm management data benefits the agriculture industry. What seems to be less commonly highlighted is the direct farmer benefit data collection provides. That’s what we want to talk about here.
Here is an overview of how collecting and using farm-level data can benefit you, as a farmer, today:
Validating decisions. Making changes to farm management practices is something you likely do fairly often. Collecting data on changes in seed choice, fertilizer type and application rate, irrigation scheduling and soil management tactics each impact the productivity of your farm. When that data is captured and compared over time and across different fields, you can identify when something works or needs improvement and make better crop production plans. This takes a lot of guesswork out of the planning and decision-making process.
Improved recommendations. Agriculture experts are a great resource; however, the data they have to work with greatly affects the recommendations they can make. The data you collect helps provide consultants with more accurate information, which increases the consultant’s ability to advise on best practice recommendations for your specific situation. That same data can also help inform your own decisions especially over time.
Input modelling. Uniformity is not a common characteristic of cropland acres. Because factors such as soil type, topography and hydrology vary, so must input application rates. Capturing sub-field-level data on variations allows you to apply inputs such as water, fertilizer and pesticides to targeted areas where those inputs are needed most. Whereas county-level data can provide you with area or county averages, capturing and using sub-field-level data on input needs addresses the unique needs of your farm operation.
Crop protection. Some farm-management software helps identify, document, monitor and manage unwanted pest species, whether weeds, insects or disease, and recommends optimal control solutions. Pest management is complex and when done right involves documenting spray application, managing for resistance and integrating practices that suppress pests. Documentation of pests and the control measures that worked best can help assure optimal yields..
Yield monitoring. What goes into the ground is just as important as what comes out. Capturing harvest data provides you with real-time, accurate information that helps inform you on how productive your fields were and identify weak points. Using this data, you can then evaluate the strengths of your acres, target weaker areas and make decisions that improve your farm’s efficiency, such as adjusting application rates or deciding to implement a conservation mechanism such as a buffer area in less productive areas.
Profit mapping. Combining geospatial, harvest, input data and economic information like invoices and sales receipts helps you calculate cost of production, identify the productivity of each acre or field and make decisions that increase the profitability of your operation.
Keep in mind, the value of a tool is not inherent — it is how the tool is used that gives it value. Afterall, a hammer would do a terrible job of digging a hole but works incredibly well for nailing one board to another. The same goes for data — the value data can provide to you can only be recognized when it is put to use to evaluate your farm operation and make decisions based on those insights, and you don’t need to be a data analysis expert to get value from the data you input. Every input is something you are deeply familiar with already. Farm management software helps organize data points across years, acres and changes in management decisions that can be used to increase the overall efficiency and long-term profitability of your farm operation.
This article is part of a three-part series about the direct farmer benefits of capturing and using farm-level data. The first article, The Benefits of Data: An Overview, covers some general benefits of farm-level data collection such as profit mapping and input modeling. The second article, Making Data Pay, covers some of the economic benefits of data collection. The third covers the Legacy Benefits of Data. You can find these articles and more about conservation agriculture on agweb.com/acam.
The insights in this article are based on original Trust In Food research conducted in spring 2020 in collaboration with Syngenta. The research focused on farmer perspectives about conservation agricultural practices. Trust In Food and Syngenta thank the farmers who participated in the study and are hopeful the information can help U.S. farmers continue to run profitable, efficient and sustainable operations.