Introduction to Big Data

There has been a lot of discussion this past season in the agriculture media about “big data” and precision farming. We now have the ability to collect and disseminate massive amounts of data from our farming operations. Can we look at that information and move the yield in our favor enough to justify the added expense? Many of our customers already have yield monitors, spray monitors, and planter monitors so the data exists about how you are managing your inputs as well as the output (yield) for your efforts. The wild card is weather, soil type, and other information that is being integrated into the equation as I write this.

We are currently supporting the efforts of The Climate Corporation (climate.com). They have the largest investment in this space, have been the most transparent explaining what they hope to accomplish, and are making their services available through our dealer network. If you haven’t been introduced to Climate take a moment to go to the website, ClimateBasic is offered for free, was used on 50 million acres last season and is an excellent way to introduce yourself to the tools that are available. Climate has a strong focus on the central cornbelt so data accumulated north of the 100-day maturity line or west of the Missouri River may not be as accurate as that from central Illinois and Iowa. I expect the focus to broaden over time as more growers participate.

The Climate Corporation is the organization with weather and soil type data. As subscribing growers add their input and output data, we get the real power. This tool is ClimatePro and is $3/acre, subscriptions can be purchased through our dealer organization, though I don’t think most of our dealers realize it yet. The tools that make this possible are high speed Internet and the ability to access vast amounts of information on weather and soils. In addition, growers with all the monitors can upgrade them for WiFi or cellular communication so data can be shared in real time as they plant, spray, or combine.

A lot of growers are concerned about the ownership of the data generated on or about their farm. Climate, as well as a consortium of companies with leadership positions in agricultural data, have all publicly stated that the information belongs to the grower! The grower would then decide who can access his data and might include entities such as his crop consultant, fertilizer supplier, equipment provider, and most important, his seed provider.

Another function being integrated into the services provided by Climate is FieldScripts®. This may be the most important part of the big data movement for us as a seed provider. In fact I expect FieldScripts® to become seamlessly integrated with the Renk Seed dealer plot program. Many of our growers may not realize how much information we gather about our products in the dealer plots that are planted each season. We get well over 100 locations of data on each of our products and this data is used extensively for making product comparisons and product selections. By participating in FieldScripts® we will have the data available at the launch of the hybrid, overlaid with soil type, available moisture and density testing.

I’m pretty excited about the promise of FieldScripts®, having spent the bulk of my career at Renk Seed upgrading our resources to generate data on new products. I have clearly seen the benefit of “big data” from my years of research trials and the work that Alex and I have done to put together our dealer plot testing program. FieldScripts®, as offered by Climate, will take our data accumulation work, supercharge it and put it in the growers’ hands for decision making. I see it as a logical extension of the work we’ve already done. Be aware that it’s not fully functioning yet and the FieldScripts® we interface with next season may not be the same as FieldScripts® 3 to 5 years from now. But we are embracing the concept much as we did broad scale shared testing and centrally coordinated dealer plots 25 years ago.

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