Farmers fail to capitalize on data

Growers have the technology in their equipment but are not using it, says agronomist

Agricultural firms and consultants have been claiming for at least two years that using complex information systems to enhance agronomy, farm management and yields will become standard practice on Canadian farms in the near future.

Manitoba grain farmers aren’t buying the hype.

Mitch Rezansoff, an integrated solutions manager with Enns Brothers, a chain of John Deere dealerships, said only 10 percent of Manitoba growers collect data from their operations.

“Just from John Deere customers, in Manitoba as a whole … we have an idea of what percentage (of farmers) are storing data to the cloud with John Deere,” Rezansoff told the Manitoba Agronomists Conference at the University of Manitoba in December.

Enns Brothers wants to convince skeptical farmers that Big Data does deliver on its hype. The company initiated a project with Manitoba growers in 2014 to demonstrate the benefits of data collection and analysis.

“A lot of growers have technology within their equipment and they’re under-utilizing it,” Rezansoff said.

“My role is to look at the entire farm operation…. How does technology, agronomy and information tie into that farm operation?… They need to be working in sync to take advantage of the advancements being released into the agricultural industry.”

Enns Brothers worked with one grower in 2014, had six sites for the project in 2015 and intends to have eight this year.

The company began offering agronomic services a few years ago in response to customer demand.

“There are very few ag equipment dealerships, even in North America, that are doing (agronomy) today,” Rezansoff said, adding Enns Brothers employs five agronomists.

One of the company’s demonstration sites is a 3,600 acre wheat, canola and soybean farm. The grower was concerned about over-applying inputs and wanted to use an information system to reduce overlap.

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“Looking at yield data over a number of years, we were finding that this (farmer) … had overlaps of 200 acres across the farm,” Rezansoff said.

The data suggested the overlap was costing the producer $24,000, a year in extra seed and excessive application of anhydrous ammonia.

As well, the overlap strips were staying green, which caused problems at harvest.

The producer responded by buying section control technology, which can turn a section of a seeder off or down to reduce application rate.

Rezansoff said the technology immediately reduced overlap, but it will take years for the investment to pay off.

Enns Brothers also worked with a producer from Arborg, Man., whose 4,300-acre farm was struggling through wet years. Data analysis showed 17 percent of the acres were unproductive because of excess moisture.

The company charted the farm’s elevation to establish the best way to move water off the land and reclaim drowned-out acres.

“It’s quite interesting, based on tradition, how many people are moving water in the wrong direction,” Rezansoff said.

“But when you start to look at the elevations as a whole … you realize the water needs to go in the opposite direction.”

Dan Hacault, a producer from Swan Lake, Man., who conducts trials and collects data on his farm, said farmers will doubt Big Data until the benefits are proven.

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“Farmers want to drill down to what it means on (the) farm,” he said.

“What are the cost savings, what is the enhanced income?”

John Bergen of Roland, Man., agreed most growers are skeptical, particularly if the data comes from another farm.

“Guys will find a reason not to believe data,” he said.

“I don’t believe this result because he’s using a yellow combine … his soil is different than mine or he got a hailstorm in July.”

Enns Brothers has collaborated with a small number of Manitoba growers, but Rezansoff hopes to have enough sites and examples by the end of this year’s growing season to publicly share project results.

He remains convinced that data is the future of grain production.

“Can data replace farmers’ experience and intuition? The answer is no. It complements it,” he said.

“Data is the new reality in farming. It’s here to stay.”

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