Cotton And Precision Ag: Playing MoneyBoll

Much like baseball, farming has always been illuminated by data. Take, for example, Babe Ruth. Would we have realized how special he was if we hadn’t kept meticulous records of the countless hitters who chased his records for decades, but fell short?

Growers have long known the same to be true for cotton production. Keeping track of on-farm variables — plant date, rain amounts, variety type, fertilizer applications — is the only way to impact success from an informed perspective. For decades, growers kept up with these data points in scribbled notes on coffee-stained paper, filed away in dusty old manila folders. But in an era when the World Wide Web is finally expanding into rural America, farm data is hitting its stride.

There’s no denying that data is the next big wave in precision agriculture. From the tradeshow to the turn row, it’s on the mind of suppliers and growers alike.

Industry giants such as John Deere have invested heavily in software that makes data available to growers in larger, more easily consumable quantities. And the quantities, or sample sizes, matter — a lot. After all, when compared with just one teammate, Babe Ruth was only the better of the two. But when compared with a larger data set — every other batter in the history of the game — he becomes one of the best of all time. Similarly, if growers are able to compare their own on-farm experiences with those of thousands of others, they’d have a much clearer understanding of the forces at work on their own operations.

But as Deere and others have discovered, compiling data — helpful statistics like yield patterns as they relate to rain amounts, variety types and fertilizer applications — is entirely dependent on having a network of growers who are willing to share their own findings. Data starts on individual farms with singular growers. Asking them to divulge those data points has, for whatever the reason, been a tall task.

“I don’t see how (data collection and sharing) works if the farmers don’t control it,” says Billy Tiller, a Lubbock, TX, cotton farmer, and Founder of Grower Information Services Cooperative (GISC). As a producer, Tiller says he understands growers’ hesitancy to share their own findings. “I think farmers would balk, if we begin to find out that someone had stabbed us in the back and used our data sets and sold it to someone else in the industry. What if a company started billing their products off of our data, and suddenly they’re charging us five more dollars per acre to sell us the same product? That’s something that would really bother me.”

But Tiller has long understood the immense value in data-sourcing and sharing between farmers. That’s why he founded GISC, which he describes as something of a grassroots effort to benefit growers across the nation.

Grower First

“I’m a cotton grower,” Tiller says, by way of introduction. “When I got started with this, look, I wasn’t going to build a data co-op. When I got started back in 2009, I was just talking to my crop insurance agent about how to move data more efficiently.”

The data he was eyeing back then wasn’t terribly complex.

“For instance, I just wanted to look at cotton production off the farm. The way I got it back then and actually the way I still get it today, I go over to the cotton gin and they print it off, I pull it, and I take it over to the crop insurance place and they re-key all the data. I said ‘This is crazy. We live in a world where we ought to be able to just pop this data out and move it over there without this much effort.’”

Tiller was also becoming more interested in incorporating data into his own farming decisions. Like many growers, he was keen on finding the best seed variety for his own farm, and as he says, “I needed good data to do that, but I couldn’t find a way to integrate a lot of the things I was coming across. I was building data sets, and I was just fed up.”

In 2010, Tiller and his West Texas counterparts had a massive crop, and he decided it was time to create the tools he needed to be able to create larger data sets. In the days before “the cloud” revolutionized storage, he says, he was eyeing servers that could host data for all who wanted to participate. The key to encouraging other farmers to participate, he thought, was privacy. He had to ensure his fellow growers that they would control who accessed their data.

Following His Instincts

His instincts were correct. Growers were attracted to his idea in droves. Today GISC has roughly 1,300 members across multiple crops in 37 states. The effort grew so quickly that Tiller realized he had to bring in someone who could manage the challenges of such a bustling startup. Enter Jason Ward, who came to GISC as Executive Director after a stint with another successful cotton cooperative — Staplcotn.

“We’ve focused on ‘What is the minimal thing we can build that optimizes the most value for that grower,’” Ward says. “We’ve come and said, ‘Let’s unite growers around data rights, around governance of that data.’  We’ve put the co-op together in order to own that data, to give governance of that data over to this organization. We are a true cooperative. When that data comes in, those growers are protected by other growers in the industry.”

GISC charges no membership fee, currently. Tiller and Ward stress that this venture is there to serve its members.

“We should have the most complete data set in the market, because only growers have all these points of interest — things like the date it was planted, the seed variety, the chemicals applied,” Ward says.

“We’re trying to create a very end-to-end complete view for the grower. How can you integrate that together? If we accomplish that, it will be the most valuable data set on the planet.”

Leave a Reply

Grower Services & Solutions Stories
Data ManagementClimate Adds Irrigation Data Analytics via HydroBio Acquisition, Will Expand to Europe in 2017
May 9, 2017
Today, The Climate Corporation, a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., announced the acquisition of HydroBio, an agriculture software company based in Read More
Simplot Truck on Wilcox Farm
Ag Tech GlobalSimplot Taps Spensa to Power Advisor Platform
April 28, 2017
J.R. Simplot Co. announced it has entered into a partnership with Spensa Technologies Inc., an agriculture services company based in Read More
Data ManagementNew Partnership: Farmers Edge, Allied Cooperative Link Up
April 24, 2017
Farmers Edge announced it has partnered with Allied Cooperative, a provider of agronomy, feed, grain, and equipment services to growers Read More
Corn close up
Data ManagementFarmers Business Network Releases State of the Industry Style Report
April 17, 2017
Farmer’s Business Network (FBN) released today its “The Voice of the Farmer”, a special research report on the state of Read More
Trending Articles
Farming iPad
Data ManagementOpinion: ROI or Die in Precision Agriculture
May 12, 2017
The thought of $3.50 corn for the foreseeable future seems pretty disheartening. However, if you look at the precision ag Read More
BASF Maglis grower retailer tablet
Data ManagementQ&A: What BASF’s Latest Foray into Precision Ag Means For Growers
May 11, 2017
In late April, BASF agreed to acquire U.S. precision ag player ZedX, a leader in the development of agronomic weather, Read More
Mung beans Australia
Ag Tech GlobalPrecision Ag in a Tough Season in Australia
May 8, 2017
This year’s summer crop season has been a tough one for most growers in Australia. Prolonged periods of high temperatures Read More
GPS, Guidance
Business ManagementPromoting Precision Agricultural Innovation in a Risk Averse Marketplace
April 24, 2017
As precision agriculture consultants we constantly are being asked our opinions on where to invest, and how to strategically invest Read More
Data ManagementInnovation Series Highlights: The Weather Company’s Rob Berglund on Cognitive Computing
April 19, 2017
Rob Berglund, global director of sales, energy and agriculture at The Weather Company, discusses IBM’s Watson and applications for advanced analytics that will fundamentally change Read More
Corn close up
Data ManagementFarmers Business Network Releases State of the Industry Style Report
April 17, 2017
Farmer’s Business Network (FBN) released today its “The Voice of the Farmer”, a special research report on the state of Read More
Latest News
BASF Maglis Grower Tablet
Data ManagementData as Currency in Ag: We Aren’t There Yet
May 25, 2017
A hot topic in the precision ag revolution is the idea ag data will become a form of currency. Many Read More
Ag Tech GlobalSci-Fi in Ag: The Waging War of Plant-Internet Bots
May 25, 2017
Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Food IT Fork-to-Farm
Hort TechThe Mixing Bowl Event Connects Technology, Food, and Ag…
May 24, 2017
For the fourth consecutive year, The Mixing Bowl presents FOOD IT, under the theme “Fork to Farm.” Action-oriented entrepreneurs, industry Read More
Nematodes in cotton
Ag Tech GlobalUsing Precision Agriculture to Manage Nematodes in Braz…
May 22, 2017
As promised in my first article, this month I am writing about some technical aspects related to the use of Read More
Farmers on Tablet Photo Credit All About Food
Professionals6 Keys of Successful Precision Agriculture Tools
May 17, 2017
As precision agriculture professionals we are frequently approached by companies that wish to partner with our organization in order to Read More
Hagie sprayer
GuidanceWhat’s New and What’s Next from Hagie Manufacturing
May 16, 2017
Many were surprised by John Deere’s announcement last spring that it had acquired majority ownership of Hagie Manufacturing Co., a Read More
Hortau Irrigation Management Software
Ag Tech GlobalHortau Commemorates 15 Years in Ag Tech
May 15, 2017
Today, Hortau celebrates its 15-year anniversary as one of the pioneers in the AgTech space, according to a press release Read More
Kip Tom
Ag Tech GlobalAg Tech: On the Cusp of Something Big?
May 15, 2017
The investment and ag-tech sectors’ continuing courtship of agriculture, smoldering for three or four years now, was well in evidence at Read More
Farming iPad
Data ManagementOpinion: ROI or Die in Precision Agriculture
May 12, 2017
The thought of $3.50 corn for the foreseeable future seems pretty disheartening. However, if you look at the precision ag Read More
Ag Tech Global2017 International Tomato Congress Features Ag Tech Ses…
May 11, 2017
The International Tomato Congress has taken place in Mexico since 2006. In 2017 it will celebrate its twelfth year as Read More
Ag Tech GlobalVenture Capital News: Aerial Imagery Outfit Garners $5 …
May 11, 2017
Ceres Imaging, an aerial spectral imagery and analytics company serving the agricultural sector, today announced it has raised a $5 Read More
BASF Maglis grower retailer tablet
Data ManagementQ&A: What BASF’s Latest Foray into Precision Ag Mea…
May 11, 2017
In late April, BASF agreed to acquire U.S. precision ag player ZedX, a leader in the development of agronomic weather, Read More
DronesSentera Phoenix Drone Nears Coveted 1,000 Acre Coverage…
May 11, 2017
Sentera introduces its Phoenix fixed-wing drone product line, with variants to support the precision agriculture, mapping, and public safety industries, Read More
Data ManagementClimate Adds Irrigation Data Analytics via HydroBio Acq…
May 9, 2017
Today, The Climate Corporation, a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., announced the acquisition of HydroBio, an agriculture software company based in Read More
GuidanceTersus adds RTK-Based AutoSteer System to GNSS Offering…
May 8, 2017
Tersus GNSS Inc., a Chinese GNSS RTK manufacturing company, released its brand new AutoSteer solution recently. The AG960 AutoSteer System Read More
DronesAgEagle takes on the Big Boys with RX48 Fixed Wing Dron…
May 8, 2017
AgEagle Aerial Systems of Neodesha, KS, today announced a fixed wing drone for the use in precision agriculture that far Read More
Mung beans Australia
Ag Tech GlobalPrecision Ag in a Tough Season in Australia
May 8, 2017
This year’s summer crop season has been a tough one for most growers in Australia. Prolonged periods of high temperatures Read More
SDWG Bret Weisenburger
Decision Support SoftwareMZB Launching New Grid Tool, Updated Mapping Center
May 3, 2017
MZB Technologies has added an additional tool to its precision system. Known for its patented zone-based precision technology, MZB will Read More