Digital Farming Helps Growers Farm Smarter

You’ve probably been collecting farm data for years. Tractors, sprayers and combines have been collecting information for a decade, but until recently there hasn’t been a way for growers to access and use that information in a meaningful way.

Now, developments in user-friendly platforms have brought all that data to growers’ fingertips in a way that is having an impact on their bottom line. “We have USB sticks full of data going back to 2010,” says Josh Lade, who together with his business partners, farm 16,000 acres in central Saskatchewan. “For years they were just sitting there, and we may have looked at the yield map but, other than that, we didn’t know what to do with it,” he adds. “Today there is so much we can do with the information both in real time and after harvest.”

With margins always tightening, data can help give growers an edge in improving crop quality, reducing input costs and managing pests. Each data point may seem small, but when they are compounded, they can make a difference when making purchasing decisions and in maximizing every acre and bushel.

“We operate in a data-rich business but the information we collected was useless until these platforms were developed and now they are so easy to use,” says Lade. “We can now take all of that data from the past and all of the information we collect today, and use it to help make informed decisions.”

MAKING DATA USABLE

Climate FieldViewTM is a digital platform that compiles the information collected on all farm equipment into one place and helps growers use that data in a way that helps them optimize inputs, time and resources. It provides yield analysis, side-by-side maps and field health imagery to help make data driven decisions.

“Technology in agriculture has always been around, and our equipment has been gathering information long before we have had a good use for it,” says Denise Hockaday, Bayer’s Climate Corporation business lead for Canada. “But now more than ever we have been able to merge technology and science in a way that helps farmers run their farms smarter.”

Hockaday says that sustainability is something people around the world care about — the sustainable use of the land, and the responsible use of inputs in agriculture. She adds that the information gathered on farms today and organized through these platforms allows those in agriculture to better report how they are using the land.

“When growers have all the data in one place — be that from their equipment, from soil tests, environmental data from outside sources, satellite imagery or imagery from drone platforms or other partners — it helps with making decisions,” says Hockaday. “Growers are able to make decisions using a complete picture instead of just pieces of a puzzle.”

PUTTING IDEAS INTO PRACTICE

Lade uses Climate FieldView to run detailed trials on his farm. He says he’s always run his own trials in his operation but they had to wait until harvest to get any information. Sometimes when gathering info meant dragging a weigh wagon into a field at 2 a.m., it just didn’t happen. With Climate FieldView he can run trials of any scale at any time, and track all types of information.

“We may decide to try fertilizer placement on one particular area of a field that has underperformed in the past to see if we can bump up the performance in that section,” he says. “Or we’ll add in a jug of fungicide on the last 40 acres of a crop that is looking particularly strong. We can try all sorts of things and track it easily on the app.”

Even without those services, says Lade, the satellite imagery provided with most digital platforms is something all growers should be using. For Lade, satellite imagery has completely changed the way he plans to scout and physically walk the fields. “This year, for example, we thought only the outside borders of our canola fields were affected by flea beetles,” he says. “But when we looked at the imagery we saw we really needed to scout deeper into the crop and we found some areas we didn’t expect that really needed to be addressed.”

LEARNING CURVE

While Hockaday admits big data can intimidate some farmers, she says there are always people on the ground to walk users through the platforms. “There will be a learning curve, but that shouldn’t stop someone from using this technology to their advantage.” She encourages growers to embrace data usage on the farm because it provides valuable insights that should improve their productivity.

Lade suggests that those who arewary of the technology ask someone to walk them through how data collection and usage works on a digital platform like Climate FieldView. “While you can manually clean up any information or variability from your yield monitor if you choose, you can also just let the app collect and upload the information and let it go,” he says. “It’s all about how precise you want to be.”

Security is always a concern when it comes to information sharing, and different data platforms take varying approaches to ownership and sharing of data. Climate FieldView is set up so farmers own their own information and they choose what they share.

In the end, Lade says that the digital information he collects, and the trials he runs definitely have an impact on his purchasing decisions. Climate FieldView, like most similar platforms, is subscription based, but he says the cost per acre is minimal when he thinks about the kind of information he is able to collect.

“Once you start using data you start to realize just how much you can get out of it,” he says. “The more information you have, the more precise you get. The more precision you have, the better your profit margins and the more profitable you can be moving forward, which is something all of us want in the end.” FF