The value of data isn’t about how much of it you have; it’s about how you can use it. Data is only meaningful if a farmer or trusted advisor can solve problems and inform decisions with it. Treating your data the same way you would any of the rest of your farm equipment can help you develop an effective data management strategy that can deliver real value to your farm.
Data is always evolving, and being unprepared can cause unnecessary strain on precision farming operations as farmers try to manage their businesses. The truth is that data comes in so many shapes and sizes. In many cases, this is beneficial because it means you can adapt data to work for you no matter how you run your business. Still, it also means that data has the potential to be mismanaged and end up disregarded.
The ag industry is just starting to enter into a data revolution, and therefore the demands on farmers and their teams to find new ways to use it are only going to increase. But, there’s one thing that will either launch your farm into the stratosphere or not, and that’s effective data management. Getting your data organized will increase efficiency, productivity, and profitability. Let’s take a look at five easy steps to help you manage your data.
1. Decide On the Data Priorities
First things first: determining what your priorities on the farm are. Depending on who you take advice from, the priorities will be different. Agronomists will want to focus on creating and accessing variable rate maps easily, while other team members, like your equipment operators, will probably want to focus more on time savings and yield-data management. With every team member vying for more focus on their specific data, it’s key to make the decision up-front what your top priorities will be for the upcoming season.
2. Understand the Makeup of the Field
It’s essential to start each season with a solid understanding of your field’s state, and data will help you formulate that picture. Through precision soil collection and sampling, field mapping, and variable rate technology, you can start to understand your field’s potential and adjust your management plan accordingly.
In soil sampling, for example, data not only provides insights into past performance; it also ensures that you proactively catch potential red flags. Red flags could include imbalances in nutrients, soil pH, organic matter, and more. Something like grid sampling could be particularly insightful if you are looking to establish the base points of a field’s soil health and establish zones based on those insights.
3. Calibrate, Calibrate, Calibrate
No matter what is you’re trying to accomplish on the farm, the first step in implementation is making sure you set everything up correctly. Data management is no different. If you haven’t set up your equipment correctly, everything you do going forward will yield inaccurate data. One of the main questions to keep in mind when managing precision farm equipment is how often should the equipment be calibrated? Whether you’re working with yield monitors, spreaders, or sprayers, they should all be routinely calibrated. Why go through the trouble of building a farm plan if incorrect calibrations will skew the results?
The key takeaway here is that good data can be useless when loaded into an incorrectly set up machine. So take those extra few moments to verify the calibrations. You’ll thank yourself later, trust us.
4. Simplify Data Exchange
Data exchange doesn’t just happen between your tractors, combines, and sprayers; it also occurs between your team members. Trying to get your tractor to talk to your combine and your combine to your sprayer can be extremely frustrating. Unfortunately, unless you’re using a Farm Management Information System (FIMS), there isn’t an easy solution. So what do you do? You choose your systems wisely, and you make sure that all of your team members are using each uniformly.
Whether you transfer your data manually via USB or the cloud, digital and physical farms should be treated the same. Any data exchange after that will work and work well, but if it isn’t set up correctly, problems will start.
5. Establish Privacy Boundaries
A chief concern for many traditional farmers is the security of their data. If there is a question of whether or not their information will be used or sold without their knowledge, that’s when data management becomes a real concern. And, fair enough. Not only has that data been collected on their property, but they’ve also been the ones to pay for it, so it doesn’t belong to the agronomist, ag retailer, or equipment dealer. Establishing boundaries upfront is vital to a healthy data management plan.
The primary takeaway is that precision ag technology allows farmers to track an increasingly staggering amount of agronomic and equipment data. Master the data, and you can master better operational efficiency on the farm. Now, farmers and their advisors are discovering new ways to manage data to make better, more informed decisions for their businesses.
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