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Make sure your data provider delivers

Tom Ryan for Progressive Forage Published on 29 September 2016
Not all tehcnology works for every operation

How extensively are you using agriculture technology on your forage operation? Ag technology and precision ag continue to advance rapidly, with many established companies and newcomers to the agriculture stage offering tools they claim deliver quality data.

But with all of the purported claims and benefits in the market, how can you be sure the data you receive is providing reliable information that’s specifically applicable to your fields? How can you tell truth from hype? What can you reasonably request from data providers who come calling and want to sell you their products and services?

Here are five questions to help you evaluate ag technology providers that arrive at your farm gate.

1. Show me the data

This is more of a request than a question, but it’s the most important thing to determine. You must demand data. For example, if an ag technology salesperson gives you permission to cut back on your alfalfa fertility program, or says you don’t have to do tissue sampling, ask why.

Then ask for the data that would support these suggestions. What kind of data is it? Is it quality data? If it doesn’t include least significant difference (LSD) information, if it’s not generated as a result of replicated trials, or if it’s not something the salesperson is willing to stake his or her credibility on, question it. (LSD is a metric indicating that enough side-by-side replications have been performed on a product to virtually eliminate field variability, allowing a farmer to choose seed based solely on genetics.)

You don’t want to be the guinea pig for a tool or a recommendation that isn’t backed by science. Because the cost to play in that ag technology space, when things go wrong, is far too costly – especially in a tough commodities market.

2. How is your data applicable specifically to my fields?

Not your neighbor’s fields. Not other fields in your region. Your fields.

There are a number of companies in the marketplace making claims such as, “We can evaluate your fields based on a national data set using actual grower data and recommend products for you.” But what they’re not telling you is, sometimes that data isn’t backed by science or it isn’t very relevant to you.

Also note where the data provider operates and who the company answers to. An established ag company that does business in your area (maybe even directly with your agronomist) may be a safer bet than one that is thousands of miles away with no ties to your area, and is perhaps more interested in focusing on what’s best for its investors instead of what’s best for you.

Ask if the data provider would be willing to map a couple of your fields as a test of the product. Many reputable providers will be happy to do this so you can see the technology operate in real time and generate data relevant to your operation.

3. How can your technology help me manage field variability?

Unless you look across your fields and they all look exactly the same from end to end, or your forage yield monitor only shows one color because you have the same yield number across the farm – and I haven’t known any fields like this – you have variability.

And wherever you have variability, there is always an opportunity to do something better.

So ask yourself, “How can I more intensively manage the better spots of my field to get even more out of them?” Or, “How can I minimize the inputs I’m putting into this spot in the field where, no matter what I do, I just can’t break that yield tonnage barrier for this alfalfa crop?”

It’s that reallocation of resources that’s always going to lead to higher production potential, higher profitability potential, higher opportunity potential and higher sustainability potential for your operation. (And if you are both a forage and a dairy producer, the quality of your milk product.)

It all starts from the variability that exists in the field. Technology can show you how to use that variability to your advantage to capture more yield, or manage around it so you don’t make unnecessary applications, or see it trickling out in back of the balers or the silage chopper.

4. Do your tools interface with each other? How about with tools from other manufacturers?

Having flexibility across multiple platforms is key. You might remember the days when a farmer had one brand of tractor and a different brand of another implement. He wanted to hook the two together but couldn’t because they weren’t compatible. So he had to get a coupler to achieve that universal fit.

It’s just as painful in the ag technology world if your tools don’t work together. To have the ability to select the tool that’s right for your operation and can talk to your other equipment and platforms is a big advantage. The tool you choose shouldn’t lock you into one set of resources or one platform.

If technology changes, you should easily be able to change your setup along with it. Make sure the technology you choose is of good quality and works well with those tools that could enhance the profitability potential of your operation.

Application program interfaces (APIs) are designed to facilitate data flow between technology tools. My company’s decision ag solution, for example, uses APIs that allow customers to operate multiple platforms from different companies in a complementary way, converting data into a universal format that can be shared at the customer’s request.

5. Check your gut: How do I feel about this investment?

Listen to what the data provider has to offer and then discuss options with your trusted adviser who can help you weigh all the factors to make the best technology decision. Listen to your gut. If something is telling you not to purchase, don’t feel pressured to do so. This is a big decision that warrants your time and thought.

Don’t be a farmer who purchases technology, gets to the end of the year and says, “I can’t believe I spent money on this; it really didn’t help me improve my operation,” or worse, “Making this technology decision set me back.

I’ll never do that again.” Don’t let a poor decision lead you to a bad case of buyer’s remorse when a good decision can lead your operation to achieve new production heights.  end mark

PHOTO: Not all technology works for every operation the same. Make sure it fits your operation and goals before making the purchase.
Photo courtesy of WinField.

Tom Ryan
  • Tom Ryan

  • Director of the Strategic Sales Team
  • WinField
  • Email Tom Ryan