data is the new ag data currency
In many ways, farm data is becoming the new currency. “The information farmers are collecting in their fields holds the key to future innovation and competitiveness,” says Ben Craker, Kuhn North America. “We are at a true turning point in agriculture.” Yet, how do you ensure you are in control of the data you are collecting and are maximizing it to its fullest potential – all the while ensuring it is secure?
Initiatives like the Ag Data Coalition (ADC) are working to answer those critical questions. Founded in 2016, it is the result of years of planning and coordination by AGCO, the American Farm Bureau Federation, Auburn University, CNH Industrial, Crop IMS, Mississippi State University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Raven Industries, Topcon Positioning Group, and Ohio State University.
“Most of today’s systems are storing data more out of necessity because they are trying to monetize that information in some way,” says Craker, who is the current ADC president. “We realized farmers needed a neutral, online place where they could securely store and control the data being collected in their fields.”
ADC (agdatacoalition.org) is a repository that works much like a bank. Farmers directdeposit (or upload) data to a secure cloud where they can organize and manage it. If they want to share their data with a trusted provider or adviser, farmers authorize the withdrawal through the coalition. They can also give service providers permission to make deposits.
“Our mission is to put farmers in the driver’s seat,” says Craker.
passenger to driver
When it comes to the data generated from the more than 2,000 acres they cover, moving from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat has been an arduous trek for Angela and Kerry Knuth (knuthfarms.com). As the Nebraska farmers work to steer their operation in the right direction, the road has been filled with a number of twists and turns and a few dead ends. “We’ve been trying different software platforms since the late 1990s,” says Angela. “At last count, we have used over 30 different pieces of software. We think we’re getting closer, but it’s been a long journey as we try to connect the dots.”
Given the myriad technologies available, Alltech’s Aidan Connolly says it’s important for farmers to take a portfolio approach. “Don’t embrace one technology and expect it to solve all of your problems.”
Through the years, the Knuths have come to that very realization: No single platform is going to provide what their operation needs. “We’re trying to mix and match,” says Angela. “What we’re finding is that the farm-management software that works well for us is coming from smaller companies – and many of them were started by farmers.”
mix and match
For planning and data analysis, the Knuths use CropZilla (cropzilla.com). Launched in 2015, the platform enables farmers to design and plan their entire growing season from planting to harvest by testing how they allocate resources in multiple scenarios. “I created CropZilla to help me do a better job of understanding my equipment costs and modeling machinery purchase scenarios to optimize my equipment lineup for cost and capacity,” says Brian Watkins, who farms in Kenton, Ohio. “We are focused on modeling field operations to maximize productivity at the most economic cost. We then use tracking devices to validate and update the model.” Today, the company serves hundreds of thousands of acres across the Midwest and Canada.
To capture machinery data, the Knuths use Farmobile (farmobile.com). The Kansas company is working to create an environment that not only centers around transparency but also helps farmers reap the rewards of sharing data.
“Every day, farmers make choices and decisions on the
farm that comprise a proprietary recipe. There’s value not only in what they produce but also in the information they collect on how they produced it,” says Jason Tatge, cofounder and CEO of Farmobile. “When farmers have control over their data, they’re able to truth hunches in the field, share their data with trusted partners, or even use it to generate new income. By having control of their own data, farmers can ensure their data is working to their benefit.”
Like many farmers, the Knuths never thought of data as something that could generate income on their farm. For the first time in the 20-plus years they’ve been farming, the Knuths were paid for their data. “It was awesome to get that check for more than $3,000,” Angela says.
As Farmobile works to monetize their farm’s data, it’s also affording the Knuths the opportunity to select exactly who has access to it.
“It matters that we know who our information is going to or at least what industries are buying it,” says Angela. “They essentially become our customers, and this gives us insight into our data customer base and also who is using this raw material (data) to produce a product or service to sell.”
Knowing who they are selling to and what they are looking for can also help them tailor what they are collecting and in what format to make it available. “For example, collecting data for an audit on organic acres will require different data sets and forms than an equipment manufacturer looking for machine data,” she explains.
While these stand-alone systems clearly have their benefits, the issue of compatibility is still a lingering problem. The good news is that companies are working to bridge that gap.
“These two systems are beginning to talk to one another,” says Angela. “The CropZilla software is bringing in Farmobile data without us touching it. CropZilla then uses that information to see how efficient we are in each field. It’s all a work in progress.”
fine-tuning practices and processes
While the Knuths are creating an integrated, thoughtfully combined suite of products for their operation, they must also figure out how to supervise those practices and processes. “The management of data on the back end is a challenge,” Angela says.
The amount of data being generated on the farm will only continue to grow with the advances in sensors, satellite monitoring, and other information-gathering technologies. In fact, farm-management company OnFarm predicts that
the typical farm will produce an average of 4.1 million data points per day by 2050, compared with 190,000 in 2014. That means being in the driver’s seat will be even more important.
“Farm data isn’t just what’s coming out of the display anymore,” says Angela. “We’ve got data coming from every corner of our operation. The question is how do we control and manage all of that information? How do we back it up? We need to get our office organized.”
As many farmers like the Knuths take an allin approach to data, experts believe their focus will be less on the technology and more about management practices and processes.
“The process of turning data into knowledge and eventually management enhancements will be streamlined by storing and transmitting information in a centralized and usable way. This is what a system like ADC offers,” says John Fulton, associate professor at Ohio State University.
At the university level, Fulton and his colleagues were experiencing similar issues when it came to sharing on-farm research. “Being a member of the ADC and having access to data sets will accelerate the development of new and innovative crop, pest, and business models for ag,” he says. “This will allow us to evaluate and enhance ag data services.” At the Extension level, Fulton adds that they will be able to enhance programming with near real-time information on crop conditions, growing condition alerts, and recommendations.
just another service?
Since ADC charges $300 annually (or $25 per month) for you to make deposits, you may be thinking this is just another data-management service competing for a share of the market. Craker says that’s not the case. “ADC is about streamlining data management and establishing those clear lines of control so you can get the most out of that information,” he explains. “Getting the data in one spot so you can achieve that is fundamental to the success of the entire industry. ADC provides you – as well as ag service providers, ag technology providers, and university researchers – a secure, neutral option that can offer unique and valuable benefits because of its independent framework.”