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Turning Harvest Data into Decisions

Data holds huge potential for the future of your farm, but only if you can figure out how to turn data into a decision. How can you make more effective business decisions with your data? What’s the most efficient way to analyze data? How do you ensure that the data is accurate? Tyler Hogrefe, John Deere senior technical product manager for ISG, answered those questions and more this morning in a Q&A on Agriculture.com. Below are his answers.

  • Do you have a question about analyzing data? Ask it in this forum, and Tyler will answer it for you.

What are the key aspects of gathering and analyzing harvest data at home, that is, without giving the data to some other organization?
TH: If you are looking to gather and analyze agronomic information by yourself, you should consider the following five steps to get the most out of your information.
1. Pick a software solution: Before you begin to gather and analyze agronomic information, you need to select a software package to store and analyze your information. Carefully evaluate your goals around data and seek out the software package and support that best meets your individual needs.
2. Gather the data: Find the best way to gather all of the information you are collecting in the field. Historically, growers have moved data via a USB stick from the machine to the office, but that approach has always had its fair share of challenges, like losing the USB stick. There are a variety of new ways you can now move data from the field to office.
3. Ensure your data is accurate: Once your data is in your software of choice, make sure it is accurate. Making decisions with information you don’t know to be accurate can negatively impact your business, so take the time to ensure your data accurately reflects what really happened in the field. This includes, but is not limited to, ensuring your product names are correct, data is associated to the right field, yield totals align with scale tickets, crop season is correct, and crop type accurate.
4. Analyze the data for insights: When you are comfortable with the quality of the data, find the right tools to explore what happened throughout the crop season. Having your seeding and nutrient applications documented and in the software will aide in your ability to determine which factors are driving yield, so consider documenting all operations and not just harvest.
5. Take action on the insights: After finding insights in the data, you need to be able to put those learnings into practice. The specific action you take in the field is going to depend on the insights gleaned from the data. As an example, your learnings may lead you to realize that you should be optimizing your input placement through the use of a prescription.

The information you collect is only valuable if it’s accurate. So what needs to be done to ensure yield monitor data is accurate? How often should you calibrate your combine?
TH: Absolutely, yield information needs to be accurate if you intend on using it to make decisions. The best place to ensure data accuracy is in the cab. Today, if you want to keep your yield totals accurate in the cab you should perform a multi-point calibration. A multi-point calibration is when you should harvest five to seven loads of grain at varying moisture levels and at different speeds. This approach reduces your potential error in yield totals, helping ensure your totals are accurate and ready to use for decision making. You will likely have to do several multi-point calibrations throughout the harvest season.

One pays for expensive monitors, takes time to calibrate, downloads data into a software program and manipulates it and what does one come up with that can tell us what to do differently next year?
TH: Your harvest information is the scorecard that measures the effectiveness of decisions made throughout that growing season. When you couple your harvest data with your seeding and nutrient application data, you can begin to understand how different variables like seed population, operating speed, downforce, nutrient rates, and variety selection impacted your productivity. Understanding which factors are driving yield allows growers, either independently or with their partners, to improve their decision making in the coming crop season. This can lead to better input placement, improved input selection, and optimized execution of the job in the field.

Most farmers don't know how to do a replicated study and they don't have time to mess with it, anyway. By the time a farmer gets some data over several years, the seed company drops that number. Does a farmer have to learn to be a seed corn geneticist to keep up with how to apply harvest data to next year's seed selection?
TH: Growers shouldn’t be burdened with understanding all of the ins and outs of seed genetics unless that is something they have a passion for. If a grower is looking to make better seed selection decisions, they have a multitude of tools at their disposal to help make that decision. As an example, consider a split variety trial and variable rate planting to get more insight about what genetics and populations work best in your fields across a wide range of conditions. Once you have captured the information, you can easily share it with your seed sales professionals so that they can help you evaluate what varieties work best in certain conditions. If a particular variety is discontinued, your seed sales professional may be in a position to map the genetics of the discontinued variety of choice to a new variety with similar traits. Having a breadth of information available for your partners to leverage will be key in making the right decision, so make sure that you are capturing not only your harvest information, but your seeding, nutrient application, and machine data.

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