R&D by the Acre: Using Digital Tools to Harvest Insights

The landscape of agriculture is becoming more digital by the day. A USDA study in 2016 found growers across several crops adopted GPS yield monitoring and variable-rate input application technologies at a rate of 8% and 15%, respectively, in the first decade of the millennium.


Today’s growers are adopting technologies to track expenses including land rent, input expenditures, labor costs, and equipment operating outlay, then extracting the summarized costs from final yield data to determine their net return. What we aren’t seeing are a lot of growers using that data for forward-looking insights. The idea of using your own fields as a R&D trial is not new, but taking it further by integrating new technology into the process and focusing on refining potential return on investment (ROI) is key. We currently estimate 10% to 15% of farms are taking that next step which presents a huge opportunity for the rest of the industry to improve.

Success Through Cooperation

I feel a big factor in improving the number of operations that utilize their own on-farm data is by partnering growers with what we refer to as Trusted Advisors. Whether it is an AgriEdge Specialist, agronomist, extension researcher or some combination thereof, cooperation and the sharing of insights is the key to unlocking data for enhanced learning purposes. We believe the more growers that can work with their Trusted Advisors, the more efficiencies they can uncover on their farms. That’s why we’re working to make as many of the tracking and reporting functions on a farm as interconnected as possible.

A Focus on the Future

When it comes to integrating digital tools on the farm, I like to think of a grower as sitting in the driver’s seat. Looking back and gleaning insights is more of a rear mirror approach to data science. While it is vital to a grower’s success, it’s not the only place they should be focused. We also want to help growers look out the windshield for more of a forward looking view. That is the true development side of the on-farm R&D opportunity.


When growers, partnered with their Trusted Advisors, utilize their collected historic data to begin making predictive models, they can gain significant advantages. By using those models, growers can put improved crop plans in place and build in contingencies to make real-time adjustments throughout the season in order to enhance their opportunity to gain efficiencies and maximize their bottom line ROI potential.

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