Opinion: The Yearly Death of Ag Data

So that headline sounds somewhat dark and ominous, doesn’t it? The thing about it is that it’s actually been happening for some time now. When you look at all the data that has been somewhat carelessly created by the various machines and controllers out there, it made me think that most of it is wasted and never used for anything. Heck, some are even trying to say it’s worth something, and while that’s great, it doesn’t really solve the issue. Why is this happening and what can be done to stop it or make the data more practical to be utilized?

[Related: Opinion: ROI or Die in Precision Agriculture]

First off, let’s look back to gain some perspective. Since the inception of monitors in the cab in the mid-90s there has been data being produced. This was done for very practical reasons, but because using any technology in the ag industry is by nature — for the lack of better term —  “slow paced,” most people never really got used to it. Everyone was enamored with the yield number or autosteer and not having to drive, but actually doing something with the data was still generally painful.

dataSure, there are all the different new technologies that make data management easier through wireless transfer, telematics, cloud computing or other methods. But even if the data is getting transferred somewhere, are people actually using that data? Data can be used for many things, from monitoring what the planter did, where and what was sprayed or fertilized, and how much was harvested and where, to using it for crop insurance and sustainability reporting, creating prescriptions, unfortunate litigations and lawful needs, or just basic tracking of what was done for comfort. While I’m not sure what the exact adoption rate for data usage is, but from what I’ve seen it’s still pretty low.

My main point is there needs to be a greater effort in using this data by people in general because there is plenty of opportunity to do so. Also, the groups that claim they can do all these great things with data need to step up their game with better education of what can be done and what the real benefit is, not just that it can be created and transferred. There needs to be more incentives to data usage, not just saying “hey, you could do this or that,” but more of “if you use it, you get this.”

Of course, the biggest problem really when you get down to it is data privacy. Many people I have spoken with have said growers often say “I don’t want anyone to have my data.” I know this conversation has been ongoing for some time now, but the ag industry isn’t doing a good enough job of tackling the data privacy issue and most of the money coming into ag tech doesn’t care about what the farmer really wants.

So, when we really start digging down in the dirt (pun intended) to why data isn’t used more in the ag industry and how it’s likely headed into another season of its untimely death, I hope this article will help open up the conversation and get things moving to change this issue. With the ag economy being what it is, growers need all they can to make sure they can make it through these troubled waters, and so do the companies that use and create the data as well. Maybe just maybe using some of this data can provide a better chance of that compared to the past. At the end of the day, we really just need to start using the tools in the tool box instead of staring at the tool chest. There is still time this season, so let’s just stop talking about the benefits of data and actually do something with it.

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7 comments on “Opinion: The Yearly Death of Ag Data

  1. Well said. I would simply reply that “the groups that claim they can do all these great things with data” (citation from above text) have not figured out which data is important because within field situations differ from one place to another. You need to find out which data to collect (experienced required, NDVI misused), determine which data can explain yield/quality variations and establish how to correct the situation. This is somehow like doing research in the fields because there is no “one size fits all” solution. Solutions are not in the books/publications yet and using simple solutions does not work (ie. NDVI based variable rate nitrogen management). You need to adapt your precision agriculture project to each situation and integrate several data (not always the same ones) before proposing agronomic solutions.
    Companies want a simple “one size fits all” solution for marketing and ease of application reasons but it just does not work this way in the environment. All they obtain is reluctance from farmers to adopt PA.
    More efficient brain use is required but it seems to me noone has truly understood it. Brains are presently used for marketing but real data (yearly yield comparisons) brings it back to the drawing board.
    This situation dates several years back and the main problem that can be pointed is a misunderstanding of what specific data means agronomically. For example, the main multispêctral data (NDVI) is used as “plant health”-related data which it is not at all but someone has called it this way and because it was marketable, it has been adopted this way. NDVI is used as an instantaneous data whereas it is mainly a cumulative data. Using data the wrong way leads to wrong conclusions and inefficient solutions.
    There are other examples but this message is already too long. Contact me in case you (reader) want efficient agronomic solutions. I do not bite, all I want is to develop efficient projects.

  2. Very interesting piece. I work with Stratus Ag Research, and I am the project manager for a new syndicated market research study that we just completed this Spring on Field Data Management in North America. The objective of the study was to better understand farmer’s data management practices, the utilization of software and track their experiences with the current software brands in the market today.
    We talked with 496 farmers in the Midwest (those who planted >1000 acres in 2016) and I can tell you that 84% indicated they have equipment that is capturing precision data (data tied to GIS), so as you say there is a lot of data being produced. 42% of farmers claim to be using software to further analyze this data. It is our intention to repeat the study again in 2017 and dig a little deeper into the specifics of those analytics. Feel free to contact me if you would like further information on our study.

  3. Data – Information – Knowledge… these are not synonymous!

    Data, are just numbers.

    Information is when these data in context as to where, what sensor, when measurements….How and why the data came to be…..now that is knowledge.

    Knowledge is what we make decisions with.

  4. Having .YLD files with GPS georeference going back to harvest 1996, I know the concerns and frustrations many farmers feel. I also know that sharing/storing digital agriculture data is more like handing over negatives of photos than sharing or loaning out one’s tools or automobile. The latter are more easily inventoried once returned. Getting back one’s original photo negative doesn’t mean copies don’t exist for the use of others.

    This is intellectual property that has value for time to come. Yes, the original owner might be missing out on opportunities from the data, but it’s one thing to miss the opportunity it’s another to provide the ammunition for a competitor down the road to take over your operation using the data you provide.

    It is unclear whether ethics have evolved with the ability to capture data (who do you trust?). If you look at society as a whole, one would suggest ethical behavior is less commonplace. Thus, many would err on the side of caution….. “am I getting in bed with the wrong players?”

    So, we have technological capabilities that are growing incredibly fast. We have sensors capable of capturing tremendous amounts of information. We have data processing, modeling twisting this data every which way. Yet, a majority of the acres around the world are at the whims of Mother Nature who can drive numerous critical elements of “the plan” to the extreme edges of the curve in a matter of hours or weeks. The question becomes, “how much precision is precise enough?” That is, looking through which end of the funnel gives the farmer the information needed to survive those whims of nature?

    A lot of people and organizations think they have an answer to that question for a price yet it is unclear whether they really know what they don’t know either. I would guess the that the common cold will be cured before this fundamental issue with open field agriculture is solved.

  5. Seems like peer-to-peer experience-sharing opportunities for farmers to discuss and share real world data/knowledge use is one way companies can “…to step up their game with better education of what can be done and what the real benefit is, not just that it can be created and transferred”.

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