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2016 Commodity Classic: Get Your Farm Management in Order Before Adding Data

Big data and digital agriculture hold promise to push your farm further into the black. It won’t, though, if you don’t have your farm-management house in order.  

Over time, farm-management record analysis from Kansas and Illinois shows factors like yields and grain sale price are only minor indicators of farm profitability over time. The big factor?  

“The variance in profitability across farms is largely driven by differences in fixed costs like machinery,” says Gary Schnitkey, University of Illinois Extension agricultural economist. 

Only until you manage such fixed costs can you begin to glean benefits. “Big data is not like the advent of hybrid corn,” says ISU’s Matt Darr. “You won’t immediately raise 300 bushel-per-acre corn. 

What it can do, though, is mimic baseball’s small-ball approach of incrementally racking up agronomic and management wins.  

Darr tells of one farmer he worked with in analyzing a 170-acre continuous cornfield that had two distinct soil types. Curious about which hybrid would perform best, the duo set up a side-by-side test.  One hybrid clearly outyielded the other: 176 bushels per acre to 131 bushels per acre. 

The farmer was a bit miffed he hadn’t caught this earlier. 

“I told him, ‘This is a journey in your career in agriculture,’” says Darr. “Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. The only time you lose is if you ignore the opportunity to learn. Take the information, build it into your management plan, and don’t let it happen again. It’s about taking bad decisions and rolling them into good decisions.”

This story is a segment of "Playing Small Data = Agronomic Success." Click the link to see full story and other related content.

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