Think Data First: Harvest Edition

There may be no other time of the year when good data management practices are as crucial as during fall harvest. Simply put, the fall yield data collection event is the foundation upon which the grower’s entire data management portfolio will rest.

Tim Norris
Tim Norris, CEO at Ag Info Tech, has been crunching fall yield data for Central Ohio growers for the past 12 years.

Tim Norris, CEO, Ag Info Tech (Mt. Vernon, OH), and his 11 employee ag tech consulting firm have been crunching fall yield data for Central Ohio growers for the past 12 years. Norris and crew — about a week or two away from full-blown fall harvest scramble mode — are eager to see the 2016 numbers, as they expect this year’s data set to offer some solid insights into what happens in a field after drought stress takes hold mid-season.

“I think a dry year is always a year that’s going to show the most variability and is going to give us some really good zone maps based off yield,” Norris says. “Any time you have a drought year a lot of people think ‘Well it’s not important that I calibrate my monitor,’ or ‘my data is junk because this is a really dry year, the yield information isn’t any good,’ and I’m going to say that’s one of the best years of data to collect because it really shows the areas of stress and it really shows the areas that are good.”

Staying on top of yield monitor calibrations as the season wears on is another focus Norris hopes growers and their retail ag tech consultants zero in on this fall.

“You want to make sure that you calibrate it at the start of the year and then check it periodically,” he explains. “And then if you start in really high moisture grain you’re probably going to need to retire that calibration when it starts to get drier and then calibrate again and just keep checking. You’ll know when it’s time to calibrate again — grain flows a lot differently at 24% moisture and above than at 22% moisture and below, so it’s important that you calibrate for both conditions.”

Something else to keep in mind, according to Norris, is how often you export and back up data from the monitor to other storage sources, such as an offline external hard drive back at the farm office, or of course, the cloud.

“A lot of people will just keep it (the data) stored on the monitor and not send it to the thumb drive until the end of the season,” he says. “I recommend that you keep it on the monitor, but then export it to the thumb drive and take that thumb drive in (to the office) and make sure that you’re actually getting good yield data collected, make a backup of that on the computer, and then I’d prefer that you’d make a backup of that on the cloud somewhere, as well.

“Then at that point,” Norris continues. “We’d like you to just keep saving it to that thumb drive and bringing it home and copying it over (to the cloud) or, better yet, get one of the systems that actually transfers the data for you and puts it right up on the cloud from the monitor for you, like Ag Leader’s AgFiniti or Climate FieldView, one of those services where all the data is sent directly to the cloud and you’re going to know right away whether you have good data or not.”

Norris tells the story of a grower storing all his data on his yield monitor, then that grower unfortunately suffered a catastrophic combine fire, losing all his yield data for that year, as a warning to growers that are not diversifying their data storage sources. He also cautions growers to read the fine print before committing to a cloud storage service.

“I think it’s very important you research where your data is going and who owns it and who’s in control of where it goes because you just never know when you sign up with one of those services what’s happening with your data.”

Closer to the Mean

While the data sets Norris’ Central Ohio growers collect look to be pretty useful on their own for 2017 planning purposes, Central Valley Associates (CVA) Agronomy R&D Manager Mike Zwingman says some early spring wet weather in his territory across Nebraska could throw off some of the yield numbers coming off combines. Zwingman says this is where yield data normalization comes in handy.

“It’s probably not our greatest year of really, really great, clean, non-weather extreme influenced data,” he says. “Here in Oakland, NE, we had a wet spring and probably had some wet spots with stand establishment issues because of dampening off, and because of cooler weather early on in the growing season, they’re going to affect yield a little bit. That’s why we normalize the data over time, over a course of multiple years instead of just one, because the more years we can put into that normalization, the better off we are on finding variability.”

Just as his Buckeye State counterpart is stressing with his growers, Zwingman is also urging CVA growers to stay on top of yield monitor calibrations throughout the harvest process. He’s also focused on getting the cleanest data possible.

“Clean cards, start with a clean memory stick so it doesn’t get confusing with other data, and then really make sure that data is aligning to the field correctly, make sure your field names are right, all of that stuff,” Zwingman says when asked his tips for growers collecting yield data this fall. “You can’t stress enough that these alignments are getting more and more important all the time. The alignment between your harvest data and your planting data, and then between our fertilizer application data, and your nitrogen data, we need to align the correct amount of information as best we can to help you make better decisions in the future as we get deeper into analytics tools.”

Zwingman also advises growers to always be in evaluation mode with their data collection efforts.

“With our new economy it’s a great time for you to sit down with your trusted advisor and see how that yield variability effects profit, not just yield, and start having a discussion around profitability driven decisions, not yield driven decisions. Those are not mutually exclusive but they’re different. And then get to what you need to do to target field profitability in your operation, not just target a yield goal, because that’s where we start to find efficiencies or limiting factors.

And then reevaluate how you use data today and use data in the future,” he says in closing. “In a world of big data solutions at the end of the day the agronomics of your particular operation is still local, it’s still in your backyard and operated by you and your trusted retail advisor.”

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