This last week I had the pleasure of visiting a variety of growers and agronomists in South Australia. With 100-plus degree temperatures, 20-plus mph winds and enough flies to drive me crazy, I witnessed one of South Australia’s earliest harvests. Most growers told me that they grew their crops on anywhere between a third to half the usual rainfall, resulting in crops that finished more than a month earlier than usual and marginal yields.
It’s seasons like these that force growers, agronomists, and ag retailers to think even more critically about growing expenses and how they can be more aligned to a growers’ expected incomes. Or, as one grower told me, “There is a big difference between having a year with no income compared to a year where you lose a million dollars or more. That’s a hole that takes longer to climb out of.” Creating a profit is always important for growers, as it is for any business, but marginal seasons just put it more at the foreground and force more creativity to be used in order to limit expenses and maximize yield potential.
Aligning expenses and income is easier said than done in most cases, but the agronomists and growers I spoke to feel that there is still more they can do to make this happen. Being able to use variable rate seeding to align plant stand with soil types, applying only a small amount of fertilizer upfront and variable rate apply more during the season depending on rainfall and vegetative index maps or adjusting crop rotations according to historic results with certain rainfall scenarios were ideas that were mentioned to help limit costs and maximize income in marginal years like these.
The question that naturally came next in most conversations was: “So, what’s stopping you from doing this now? Why didn’t these ideas happen to get acted on this season?” From all the answers I got, most of them led back to one reason: the data needed to change current farming practices is spread over too many different sources, preventing layers from being overlaid or datasets from being used in conjunction with each other. When this happens, maximum value cannot be derived from the data owned by growers.
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The logical solution for this problem is centralization of data — having every dataset, all geospatial data layers, complete budgets, and every crop-input related application available on the same platform, will enable growers and agronomists to utilize this information and make more profitable decisions when it counts. However, as more ag-tech companies start to offer new and novel solutions within their own data silo, the harder it becomes to realize this. So what can growers and agronomists do to overcome this?
The solutions may be obvious but, adoption of a single platform for all farm data often proves to be more challenging than it should be for growers. The way I see it, the best thing growers can do is to implement the platform that holds the data that is most critical to them and that enables them to collaborate with their critical advisors such as agronomists and financial advisors, so they can immediately eliminate double-handling data and improve efficiencies.
From there, it’s up to suppliers to join them on the same platform and make data available to growers where it is most convenient for them, not just where it suits the suppliers. In my opinion, the pressure on ag-tech suppliers to break data-silos down and make data available to their clients where it makes most sense will increase rapidly in the near future, with a few common platforms across the industry as a result. In the end, data availability could be the next big step in improving grower profitability, which should be the aim of every ag-tech provider, and collaboration and data centralization are the two keywords in this process.