Currently, data is being collected at the highest rate since the inception of precision agriculture in the mid-90’s. Today, there exists a variety of precision agriculture hardware and digital technologies that enable farm and field level data to be collected. Collecting and storing data by a farmer is an initial step to creating value from data but the real value comes through analyzing and using the data. Another key value for farmers is sharing data with trusted advisors in order for those providers to deliver services and information back to the farmer. However, sharing data with two or more trusted advisors or companies can be cumbersome today for various reasons.
For us at Ohio State, conducting on-farm studies and working directly with farmers, data collected from precision agriculture technologies remains important and valuable to drive our research. Even more valuable is preserving historical data, in particular, display data representing as-applied and yield maps and being able to share this data within our team and partners. This article explores ideas around sharing data today while overviewing results from recent surveys related to sharing and digital technologies.
What will sharing my farm data accomplish and what is the value?
Many farmers may find themselves thinking about this important question as they weigh the benefits and drawbacks of sharing their farm data. The potential to realize value from data can often stem from sharing it via digital technologies to service providers or with trusted consultants. In many cases, it may be necessary for a grower to share farm data with multiple entities in order to maximize the use of data for them. While many simple solutions have been presented to farmers that may simplify data sharing, many times the benefits and tangible value of doing so have not been clearly or accurately conveyed.
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- Reducing the amount of duplicate data such as files generated and collected.
- Innovative digital tools allow for crafting site-specific information and learnings at the sub-field level.
- Moving from collecting and storing data to developing actionable decisions from farm data.
- Verification of field level decisions and developing new insights.
- Generating trustworthy, data-backed answers and solutions for complex issues at the farm and field level.
- Identifying opportunities to improve efficiencies, reduce risk, and increase bottom line.
- Empowering scientists and researchers to explore and develop new analyses.
These are just a few examples that have been identified within research and the extension Digital Ag Program at The Ohio State University. However, farmers may also find tangible value in sharing their data by utilizing digital technologies or tools. In an effort to understand this potential value, Ohio State University, Iowa State University, and the University of Nebraska surveyed 120 progressive soybean producers. These farmers surveyed can be described as those that use a smartphone or tablet and are utilizing variable-rate technology for multiple inputs, suggesting that many had already started to implement digital technologies in their own operations and were using them for business decisions.
For clarification, the study defined “digital technologies” as ag data tools that require the use of farmer data to provide products, information, and recommendations. These tools can come in the form of mobile applications, web platforms, or agricultural technology provider managed services. Results included summarized farmer comments that included their ideas around the benefits data sharing:
- “Utilizing digital technologies allows me to make better decisions about inputs next year.”
- “In a game of moving variables, there is a ‘peace of mind’ value that you are putting yourself in the best position for success.”
- “I am raising a better quality [crop] by utilizing digital tools to understand what it requires for the current growing season.”
- “There isn’t any one way to view all your information. The question is how do we use [digital tools] together to the best of our ability.”
By utilizing these technologies, study results illustrated that these progressive farmers were sharing their data, at some level, external to their farm operations. Of interest, over 92% of farmers share data with at least one person outside the farm operation, 66% share with two or more people, and 34% are sharing with three or more people. These results highlight the need in the near future for more farmers to share data with multiple resources in order to receive recommendations and information along with value.
These farmers most commonly shared their data with agronomic consultants, seed sales representatives, retailers, university extension/researchers, crop insurance personnel, and marketing consultants. Over 60% indicated that they share data with both seed representatives and agronomic consultants. When farmers do make the decision to share data, more than two-thirds of them indicated that they have “high” or “very high” expectations that sharing their data will provide value to their operation.
While these results provide some insight to the perceived value in terms of qualitative outcomes from sharing data, the survey also asked producers to quantify the value of digital technologies in terms of dollars per acre. Surprising, 100% of the respondents selected an answer $2.50/acre or above value. While the option of $0/acre was listed, none of the farmers selected this response thereby demonstrating that farmers who are utilizing digital technologies and sharing their data have found benefit within their farm operations.
A key learning from this survey, is that sharing data can provide a value to individual farmers or farm operations. However, data sharing needs to be an important feature for ag technology providers as it allows farmers to take advantage of the data they are collecting and storing today. Our Ohio State digital ag team relies on quality data collected from farmers through precision ag technologies. Our ability to collect this data, preserve display data, and share among our team is important as our value comes from the research learnings that we can then share back to agriculture. Tools that improve data collection and sharing efficiencies bring tangible value to our team and for the results we report. One example tool that has brought efficiencies to our data handling processes has been Ag Data Coalition (ADC) accounts. These accounts allowed us to collect farmer data from popular cloud platforms, organize that data, and share in a secure and private manner.
Find additional data resources and information on The Ohio State University’s Digital Ag website: digitalag.osu.edu.