Data integration could change the way you farm
- Data gathering is important to agriculture, but different formats and platforms limit how data can be shared
- When information sources are combined, variable rate decision-making becomes more viable
- While complete data integration isn’t developed yet, it is a future goal of the ag industry
Technology has changed how businesses operate, and it’s had an increasingly profound impact on agriculture, but Lisa Prassack (@LisaPrassack)– innovation expert, data strategy consultant and president of Prassack Advisors – believes data integration is the next frontier. She sees many technology silos, where different formats and platforms limit how data can be shared and utilized, but she believes these limitations will be overcome.
We can’t hear the plant screaming for help – that’s why imagery is so important.
Prassack experiences the problems first hand while helping major companies with their technology needs. “I get hired when things are hitting the fan,” Prassack says. Through Trader Joe’s, she was involved with suppliers to organic agriculture. She assisted Agrium with the retail acquisition of Viterra and has worked with Trimble, Dell, Genetech and many others.
First, collect data
There’s no shortage of data that producers can collect, whether it’s yield maps, soil test results or input costs. Soil sampling on a grid system provides additional information. Elevation maps can be added to the mix, and some producers are even experimenting with engine load maps that measure soil compaction.
One new source of data quickly becoming important is imagery from aerial field views. With infrared images, you can often identify problems you simply can’t see from the ground.
Prassack sees similarities to some of the diagnostics we use all the time, like X-rays to see a broken arm. “We can’t hear the plant screaming for help – that’s why imagery is so important,” she says.
“Clean acquisition of data is the first step, but can the data be organized in useful ways for analysis and decision making? That’s the much bigger challenge.”
At a field level, data needs to be available in layers. When information sources such as yield maps, infrared imagery, soil test results and topography are combined, variable rate decision-making becomes more viable.
Beyond agronomic considerations, Prassack believes a unified view of all the farm’s operations is essential, and that means getting a real-time view of assets – including inventory. Data entry isn’t much fun, but data re-entry is often required because one program may not be integrated with another. Even with all the data in the right place and format, performing useful analysis can still be difficult and time consuming.
“Integrated data helps the farm by bringing together lenders, insurers, crop advisors and ag retailers,” Prassack notes. Each of these service providers can benefit from having a holistic view of the farm operation they’re serving. She notes there are many more agronomy platforms than accounting platforms.
Everyone is a stakeholder, whether a farm equipment manufacturer or an agronomic supply company and as a result, many alliances are being forged.
Producers are sometimes wary about giving up control of their data to agribusiness. One concern is privacy. Another is that companies will benefit from large sets of data, so growers want to be compensated.
Prassack appreciates grower concerns, and says the onus is on companies to be clear about what data they want and how it will be used. She says data isn’t meant to be tracked to specific individuals, but when grouped by a crop zone, it can provide valuable insights. She believes it’s important that growers are able to choose what data they share, and with whom.
As traceability becomes more important, Prassack says, product tracking is taking on added complexity. She believes more devices will operate autonomously in future, passing along valuable information to a central system. Weather and market information will be better integrated and alerts will be consolidated and prioritized.
Imagine you’re seeding and the weather forecast begins calling for a much-needed rain. You adjust the fertilizer rate upwards to take advantage of this new information. In a perfect world, this adjustment made from the seat of your tractor would be automatically reflected in fertilizer acquisition requirements, cash flow projections, yield projections and your marketing plan.
“The real prize is integrating the whole system – a system of systems,” Prassack says. “We’re not there yet, but we’re moving in the right direction.”