Collecting data year over year can help farmers manage their fields more precisely
By Jackie Clark
As technology for agriculture continues to progress, farmers can use a combination of human expertise and digital tools to optimize their cropping systems. Producers will be collecting important data from their fields as they harvest, but they can also use information from the entire season to inform future management decisions.
“Anything that a farmer does on his field has a chance to impact the end results,” Derek Freitag, a market development lead for Bayer CropScience, told Farms.com. “The two most basic pieces of information that a farmer should be looking to collect from their field is certainly the planting information as well as the harvest information.”
It is key “to know what you have in your field and you want to know the results” in terms of yield and quality, he added.
Most digital platforms start with those two time points, however, “the goal would be to collect a layer of data from every pass of the field,” Freitag said. Those passes may include tillage, application of crop protection products, and any fertilizer applied to the crop.
“Knowing the rate across the field and the timing is very important,” he added. All that information will contribute to a full understanding of the crop’s development and eventual yield.
An effective data management tool can help farmers keep track of any test plots or varied management decisions they employ in their fields.
“Farmers are great experimenters; they run their own trials,” Freitag said. “When you’re thinking about a digital platform, you want one where you’re going to be able to capture those trials in the field. … Whether it’s different fungicides or looking at a variable rate fertility program or variable rate planting, you want to capture those layers and be able to analyze them with the harvest data in the fall.”
Digital tools can help organize and display data in a way that is easier to understand and simpler to gain insight from.
“FieldView, as an example … all that data flows to one spot,” Freitag said. Farmers have the ability to look at split screens and different layers of data at the same time to find connections, or to understand how different factors vary across the field.
“Picking a digital tool that will allow farmers to collect that information to one spot and look at the different layers together is very important. Otherwise there’s just way too much information,” he added.
Then, how do you use that data to inform management decisions?
“One of the challenges that digital platforms face is taking all the relevant data that exist and making something useful out of it and helping farmers make an informed decision on their fields,” Freitag said.
He suggests using digital analysis software and consulting with agronomy experts.
“You want a tool that’s got a lot of data behind it that’s going to do some sort of analysis and (provide) recommendations with that data to help you make decisions,” Freitag explained. Different software applications can help producers determine management zones in their fields. Over the years, as technology advances and producers accumulate more data, additional specific recommendations for things like seeding rate or crop protection may become available.
“As a grower, it’s still up to you to decide to use those tools, and how to tweak those tools for your field,” Freitag added. “One thing I’m an advocate of is a second set of eyes.”
That “second set of eyes is going to help you interpret the data, look for the things that maybe you can’t see, bring experience in from other growers and other fields, and help you understand and make the best use of the data that’s on your farm,” he explained.
Some digital tools will let you automatically share data with an agronomist, which can help inform scouting and planning decisions.
“Tools like FieldView allow growers to work with retail,” Freitag said. Agronomists or scouts “can know, before they go to the field, where the good spots in the field are or the bad spots, and target the bad spots to understand what’s happening.”
That data, in addition to field observations, can “allow you to have a more robust conversation in that winter planning phase than you would have had otherwise,” he added.
In the longer term, “having all the information in one spot starts to get more powerful,” Freitag said. With multiple years of data, farmers can meticulously identify zones within fields and adjust management to address those zones.
“You can only do that if you’re collecting data year over year,” he said.
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