Data Collection: Beyond Yield Data

We talk a lot about why yield data is important, but there are other measures you should be tracking and many that precision ag tools can help you make use of.

Back in May 2017, The Economist declared that data had surpassed oil to become the world’s most valuable resource. And there has never been more data available for those in the agricultural sector than there is today.

At Tillable, we know from experience that increased data collection and transparency helps reinforce the value of agricultural land and its potential. We believe that yield data is empowering for farmers and for farmland owners.

And we’re not alone. Global trends in agtech investment have been positive for years. In early 2019, John Campbell wrote that “since 2014, 282 agtech companies have raised $5.5 billion of private capital across 481 transactions in the U.S. and Canada.” If data is the new oil, plenty of companies are drilling. But what can all this new data do for farmers and farmland owners?

While yield data remains a vital piece of information for farmers and landowners to exchange as part of the farmland rental process, there’s much to learn from other data points and the new agricultural data collection methods that software has brought to the market. Here’s what you need to know about data collection to help you get the most out of your farmland rental operation.

The most important data point: yield data

As a farmer, you need to have crop yield data to determine your gross revenue. This number will likely impact the rental price per acre, making it key information for you and your landlord. For this reason, most leases moving into 2020 and beyond should include a data reporting requirement.

In the past, grain elevator receipts have been the standard for sharing yield numbers. Better tech and smarter tools will make this process more formal than simply having your farming share a number over the telephone. The right partner—farmer or landlord—will be onboard to share this data in the simplest way possible. Today, that’s automated data delivery.

If you’re considering putting a bid on a new piece of land, you’ll want to know how it has performed previously to ascertain if it has the potential you’re looking to add to your operations.

Certainly before you make an offer to rent with a new landlord or tenant, discuss yield data. Talk about your practices, preferences and how you’d like to communicate this information during the year.

You may even find that tech-savvy landlords are looking for farmers that are connected to the digital world and know the value of this yield data. As yield data collection becomes more mainstream, starting the conversation around data-sharing will be simpler as more farmers and landowners understand that this data sharing process is part of building a record of stewardship, whether this information is going to be shared with a purchaser, landlord, or potential tenant.

Bonus: The digital transmission of yield data is especially exciting for farmers in a flex lease situation. If your lease is structured to adjust based on the yield, this process can be streamlined by automatic delivery through a digital platform.

Get the most from these 7 types of farmland data

After yield data, there are a few data points that can provide powerful information for farmers or landowners. From soil health to inputs, here’s what you should be tracking:

1: Soil samples

Simply put, soil health matters and taking regular soil samples will help you determine what inputs are needed. When you receive soil samples, you’ll be able to answer several important questions:

  • Are the soils progressing towards fertility?
  • Is the organic composition good?
  • What is the pH level?How is the acidity balance?
  • Are there any P or K deficiencies that need to be addressed?

2: Fertilizer maps and other inputs

You should keep receipts and application maps for fertilizer and other nutrient inputs. In tandem with yield data and soil sample test results, this information will help you determine whether your applications are helping or hurting.

Here's a related topic!

Corbett and Mason discuss adequate information sharing between landowners and farmers.

If you have a strong understanding of what’s going into the soil, you’ll be able to make better decisions about what inputs or applications your soil needs to maximize your yield.

3: Herbicide applications

Don’t neglect to document any herbicide applications. If you apply too much herbicide too late into the year, it may impact the next season’s crop, depending on your rotation. To make it easy to track down any issues that may be related to residual chemicals, keep receipts for your herbicide applications.

4: Removal rate

As part of the data set you’re building, it’s important to calculate the removal rate from the last season’s crop. Every year you produce a crop, you can do calculation: the number of plants per acre will help show you the level of nutrients pulled out of the farm. Be sure you replace at least as many nutrients as you take out to maintain healthy soil.

5: Planting and harvest dates

The most helpful data points available that you aren’t already tracking are your planting and harvest dates. Whether you’re in the habit of calling your landlord or sending an email to say that you’ve planted the fields on Friday, it’s a good idea to ask your landlord how they prefer to receive information and make this part of your annual data exchange.

Why does tracking these dates matter? At the end of the year, when you begin new farmland rental negotiations, it may be important to know that the crop got planted late when you begin to analyze the performance of your crop and your overall operation. If there was a great spring season and you felt you planted the crop at the right time but the field didn’t produce, you’ll know to dig in and look at the soil’s health over the past year or two. Having the planting date can be a key piece of this puzzle.

The same goes for harvest dates: if you wind up feeling like you’ve paid for drying at the elevator too often in the past decade, being able to look at the hard data and reconsider your harvest dates more precisely will be a huge asset.

6: What’s planted on the land and its maturity rate

Keep track of what’s planted and make sure you record the specifics. This includes your crop’s maturity rate. Consider the difference between 90-day corn and 115-day corn—the time it takes your plants to mature is a piece of the annual puzzle.

7: Seasonal data

You probably don’t spend much time tracking every day’s weather and working hours, but there are a few annual measures and seasonal practices that are worth recording:

  • Precipitation. Although there’s no way to control it (beyond what tiling can do), there are many ways to measure the precipitation levels on your farm. Most agricultural land for lease in this country is irrigated by Mother Nature, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep track of her impact on your land. It’s vital that you keep a detailed record of flooding on your acres to help you anticipate future water issues or potential areas for investing in infrastructural changes.
  • Crop rotation. While most farmers will consistently turn bean stubble into rows of corn stalks, it’s a good idea to track your crop rotation in the long-term.
  • Tillage. If the land is being tilled, this should be recorded.

Even if tracking the order of your crop rotation feels like second-nature, keep in mind that you’re not just building a record for yourself. You’re reinforcing the value of your farmland by collecting data points that fill out the whole picture for your landowner or for future stewards of the land.

To help with this, you can use a precision ag solution or other technology, but you can also use much less sophisticated rain gauges. While these data points may seem as essential as fertilizer applications or yield data, they may help build a clearer picture of your land’s productivity.

Smart ag is here to help you make the most of your data

What do you think of when someone says “smart ag”? Smart agricultural tools are made to collect and transmit data about your field, your crop and your operational performance. They also require a higher level of maintenance, as there’s a computer component in every machine that requires additional technical maintenance.

Many farms today would probably jump from “smart ag” to “yield maps,” as those are one of the most commonly used resources that smart farming equipment generates today. Smart ag software aggregates data from your smart tractor, seed planter, and combine, then plots it on a map to visually display how your fields are doing. It shows areas that are struggling and places where your crops are thriving with striking geographic precision.

If you already use smart ag products, you’ve probably noticed that getting data from your smart ag tools has become much easier in the past five years. While farming equipment has had signals for a long time, the data collected wasn’t easily accessible unless you were a data scientist. But today’s software makes it easy to access data right off the tractor.

No matter which smart ag tool you use, your experience is part of a larger market trend as agriculture moves toward more accessible data for user analysis.

The future of farming is rich with data

While the most helpful pieces of data haven’t changed, agricultural software and smart ag technology are making it easier to record and access data points that many farmers used to track only in their memories. Although you don’t need highly sophisticated agricultural software to track this information year-to-year, you’re likely already using tractors and combines that include these capabilities.

The next step isn’t paying attention—it’s integrating the available data into a platform that will make the most use of it. For example, entering this data into Tillable’s platform makes it easy for farmers and landowners to review the history of their work on a crop or how the land has performed year-to-year.

In addition to reducing the room for error and the number of hours spent tracking down the history of a piece of farmland for rent, smart ag tech provides new opportunities for farmers and landowners to enrich their case for fair rent and better stewardship of the land by removing the part of the process that relies on educated guesses.

Landlords are able to see how their land is performing and they can compare the results within a regional context. Farmers no longer have to rely on your own diligence to fill out a spreadsheet or to make a phone call to your landlord.

The process of understanding and sharing data is no longer cumbersome: smart ag is already here to compile your operational data and share it with stakeholders to provide everyone with a seamless experience.

Related questions

There are 8 types of data that are most important to understanding farm performance and land stewardship:

  1. Yield data
  2. Soil sample tests
  3. Fertilizer maps and other nutrient inputs
  4. Herbicide applications
  5. Removal rate of the last season’s crop
  6. Planting and harvest dates
  7. What’s planted on the land and its maturity rate
  8. Seasonal data including precipitation, crop rotation and tillage

Also called precision ag, this is a broad term encompassing the use of a variety of technological tools and data to make farming more controlled and strategic. The data gathered by precision ag software tools are critical to help farmers intelligently manage their operations and help landowners understand and validate their farm’s performance.

GPS-guided tractors, GPS-based soil sampling, enhanced equipment and software that allow for the regulation of planting, harvesting, fertilizing and other farm activities are all examples of precision or smart ag tools that can be used to collect farming data. However, more traditional methods such as elevator scale tickets, fertilizer receipts and manually recorded planting and harvest information can also be used when precision ag tools are not available.

Sustainable farming practices are designed to maximize profit for farmers and landowners while also ensuring the land is as healthy and productive as possible, so that it may continue to thrive far into the future. Following sustainable farming practices, such as strip-till or no-till and other methods, protects the health and value of farmland, which is a finite resource.

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