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Turning Ag Data into Sensible Decisions
Like many farming operations, Blythe Cotton Company has a variety of technology gathering information on its 3,500 acres of corn, cotton, soybeans, and wheat.
“As farmers, we have an intimate knowledge of our fields, and all of this data gives us new insights as to why a certain field produces at the level it does,” says third-generation farmer Jamie Blythe. “The sheer scope of it is overwhelming when trying to determine how that data can improve my farm. How do I sift through all of that information and determine which insights are truly accurate and which are anomalies? It’s not enough to just have a better understanding of my farm. I have to translate that understanding into tangible solutions.”
It’s a challenge dealerships recognize as they expand their portfolios beyond traditional iron.
“Four years ago, I was hired by TriGreen Equipment to grow the data-management business,” says Shannon Norwood, intelligent solutions manager. “The biggest frustration farmers have with their data is that they get overwhelmed. A lot of times, I’ll ask them to step back, take a smaller piece of the puzzle, and break it out into more manageable sections. We can then build it into a bigger solution for the entire farm from there.”
Another difficult task the dealership encounters is finding a farmer’s data sweet spot.
“A challenge I face when working with farmers and their data is finding the touchpoint for that farm,” says Norwood. “What may be of value to one farm is not necessarily the same for its neighbor. It takes a lot of one-on-one time, because I have to understand the operation and its management structure – not just the crops grown on the acres.”
Working closely with Blythe for about five years, the team at TriGreen is equipping the Courtland, Alabama, farmer with the hardware and software necessary to dig through the data and to create the tangible solutions she’s been searching for.
Critical to developing those solutions is starting with fact-based information.
“The biggest frustration farmers have with their data is that they get overwhelmed."
“I noticed the Blythes weren’t doing enough yield calibrations to have accurate yield data coming out of the combine,” says integrated solutions consultant Will Gotcher, TriGreen Equipment. “I corrected the problem by doing a couple more calibrations. It takes a little more time, but they have much more accurate information at the end of the season.”
Information is narrowed down to specific data sets. “We look at a couple different types of data,” says Gotcher. “Yield data is the big-picture view, but we also have sprayer application reports that we pay particular attention to.”
Building a team
For crop consultant Dwain Reed, who has been working with the Blythe family for more than two decades, the best way for him to use the data is very simple.
“I accumulate yield data and draw sampling zones from that data,” he says.
When Reed first began working with Blythe, he drew the zones and wrote the prescriptions.
“Now, she writes the seeding prescriptions and tweaks the soil-sampling zones,” he says.
“We use a private lab for soil sample analysis, but we use Auburn University’s recommendations. She writes the fertilizer and lime prescriptions from these recommendations, but she can add something to a zone that she thinks may need a little extra. We soil-sample every year,” he says.
“I start with the yield map from the previous season and compare it with yield maps from preceding seasons,” Blythe explains. “I then compare yield maps with soil maps and elevation maps.”
Based on what the data reveals, she refines planting zones. “After a few years, zone boundaries don’t shift quite as much, but I do think there will always be an evolution in zones over the years,” she notes.
Next comes seed variety choices followed by determining seed populations of each zone, which depends on variety planted and yield potential of that zone.
Seamless technology has also been key to allowing trusted advisers access to her information.
“I download Jamie’s yield data from her 2630 John Deere monitors into Apex and SMS software,” explains Reed.
Blythe tried several software programs and settled on SMS to communicate back and forth with Reed because of its ease of use and ability to share shapefiles.
“I also use MapShots AgStudio. Each program has its strengths and weaknesses for specific applications. It’s fairly easy to shuffle data between these three programs, as needed,” Blythe says.
“Managing data is going to be essential for the future of the farm, because it is another management tool,” says Norwood. “Precision ag lets us take those fields and really micromanage them to where we can maximize their potential profit. We are not trying to maximize yield; we’re looking to be profitable across the entire field.”
Blythe adds, “No matter who is analyzing the data, it is essential to have farmers involved because they know their fields like no one else does.”
As overwhelming as it might seem, Blythe knows that in the current commodity price cycle, attention to detail will be the deciding factor between profit and loss. “My ability to collect and analyze data is an important complement to the knowledge gained from planting, spraying, and harvesting my fields year after year,” she says. “I have to combine my boots-on-the-ground knowledge with the capabilities of analysis to maximize production.”
For Blythe, that means building a team that encompasses agronomy, iron, and technology for a seamless system.