For­get crypto

data is the new ag data cur­rency

Successful Farming - - FRONT PAGE - By Lau­rie Be­dord, Ex­ec­u­tive Edi­tor, Ag Tech­nol­ogy

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.”

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