The Power Of Data Collection And Management

Alabama grain grower Don Glenn is a technology believer, especially when it comes to data collection and management. But he’s not a technology enthusiast for technology’s sake — it’s truly helping him manage his farm more efficiently and profitably.

During a special session at the Beltwide Cotton Conferences in Nashville in January, coordinated by Cotton Incorporated and moderated by Cotton Grower magazine, Glenn shared his experiences working with data, and the benefits it can provide.

“Do you know which crop is your most profitable crop?” he asked the audience. “Do you know which farm is your most profitable farm? Or which is your least profitable farm? Your most profitable field? Which field consistently loses you money?” As Glenn explained, these are just a few of the key questions you’ll have the answers to with properly collected and organized farm records.

“What are farm records? Farm records are simply data,” said Glenn “You record what you did, when you did it, and where you did it. You collect the data, you analyze the data, and by all means use the data. You’re hoping you can use that data to make your operation more profitable.”

Glenn’s family farm is long past the manual data entry stage and is fully automated. As he admits, “I hate keyboards, and sitting in front of a computer. I want it automated so that every time I step out of the tractor or the combine, I want to be able to pull out a memory card, stick it right into the desktop and have that data go right into the computer. I don’t want to have to sit there and transfer data.”

And he’s been able to do some remarkable things on his fields by gathering data and staying organized. Running a split planter to compare corn hybrids was made relatively simple using technology. Using a 12-row planter, Glenn planted six rows to one hybrid and six to another. The information was recorded using GPS and a software package running on a PDA. Then the full treatment program was programmed in and recorded as it was done. Finally, yield was recorded after harvest, and all the data was layered on top of each other so that the two hybrids could be accurately compared.

“What we did was we created a completely automated strip trial,” said Glenn. “We didn’t have to set up anything ahead of time, we didn’t have to flag the field, we did not need a weigh wagon. We simply went to our computer a few months after harvest and compared the two hybrids.”

Ultimately, the difference between the two hybrids was about four bushels/acre for an added profit of $9 an acre. Glenn shared similar positive experiences with variable rate nitrogen (N), potash (K), and phosphorus (P). In a 2002 N example, Glenn used three years of yield data to develop a prescription map that netted a 12% reduction in total application with no loss of yield.

For P and K, Glenn developed a field prescription map based on nutrient crop removal rates and significantly reduced his rate of application.

“This is the way you make money with this technology,” said Glenn. “You are doing real world analysis with your own data on your own farm.”

And, if the information is well-organized, it can serve a variety of functions. Glenn uses reports generated from the data to prove compliance with conservation management plans, apply for crop insurance, and communicate field management programs to landlords.

“It is all about being organized, and if you collect the records, if you keep it organized, the power is there,” says Glenn. “It gives you management tools that you did not have before. The guy that is going to be in business is the guy that runs his farm like a business, and has the information to make business decisions based on upon it.”

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Spring 2008 issue of PrecisionAg Special Reports.

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