The company uses data that farmers collect on their equipment, information from public sources and grower invoices
Farmers Business Network is on track to build the most complete agronomic data set that has ever existed, according to Matt Meisner, head of data analytics at FBN.
“Basically, it’s the world’s largest network of real-world farm data to help make decisions on variety selection, crop rotation planning, optimizing fertilizer and chemical use,” Meisner said.
FBN uses the data farmers collect, including from their equipment, such as spatially located product application rates, and information from public sources, such as data sets on soil, weather and topography.
“Some data comes from asking the farmer additional questions about crop rotations, row spacing, tillage, anything like that that maybe isn’t collected from the machinery but is still valuable for us to know,” Meisner said.
Further information is collected from growers such as invoices that describe what they’re paying for things like chemicals and fertilizers, and seed.
“Anything that they’ve bought we try to collect a record of it,” Meisner said.
“So we can analyze what products have a good ROI (return on investment), what the price discrepancy are for different products in different regions and identify ways they can save money.”
When all of the information from individual farms is compiled, it becomes more useful.
“That’s when you get enough data for it to become statistically relevant. You need sufficiently large sample sizes for something as complicated as agriculture to really know what’s going on,” Meisner said.
He said getting data from lots of growers is critical to comprehending the different factors that can affect how a crop performs.
FBN use data in many forms including information collected automatically and stored in cloud accounts of large equipment manufacturers, however this is not always possible.
“In those cases, the farmers have to download the data from their equipment with a USB stick or something like that. We have lots of representatives in rural communities that can help farmers with that process. If they don’t know how to get data off their monitor or if something went wrong, (FBN representatives) can come out to the farm and help with it,” Meisner said.
The input pricing data sets can be populated with FBN’s IOS and Android apps.
“Farmers can just take pictures of invoices and then we do all the work of figuring out what those chemicals were, what those seeds were, what the price paid were, accounting for all the discounts and rebates the best that we can.”
Price transparency aspect of FBN is a significant reason behind the company’s success. Through the FBN store, farmers can buy inputs that will be delivered directly to the farm.
FBN uses aggregated anonymous data sets to power the analytics on seed and fertilizers.
But Meisner stressed that all of the information is anonymous so one farmer’s individual data will never be revealed to another.
Users can see how a canola variety performs in their particular region, but the information would not be tied to an individual farm and the data would not be shown unless enough data exists to ensure unanimity of the source.
“The only types of data sharing we do is when the farmer explicitly requests their data to be shared, for example with their crop consultant or their agronomists,” he said.
Farmers who contribute data can access maps of their own data and see standard precision maps, yield maps, planting maps and spraying maps.
Users can also access benchmarking.
“Given that we have lots and lots of famers contributing data, we can give detailed benchmarking to show farmers how their performance compares to their peers on a variety of attributes, like how their seeding rates compared with their neighbors, or how they did compared to farmers who planted at a similar time,” Meisner said.
Another FBN app helps growers with field scouting efforts, by allowing them to take notes and pictures of what they see.
Some growers use FBN for bookkeeping purposes, because their data is stored in a well-organized and secure location, Meisner said.
FBN first international expansion was into Canada last December, and the company now has two million acres signed up, primarily in Western Canada.
The company has bought the retailer Yorkton Distributors in Yorkton, Sask.
Meisner said he thinks big data is here to stay, largely because the economics of farming are not always in the farmers’ favor.
“Farmers who are feeling a lot of margin pressure on the input side or the yield side are not making as much money as they used to,” he said.
“Data collection technology is getting better and easier to use, more sensors are being developed all the time, from soil sensors to satellite imagery and traps with pest densities. With the increase of data availability, that will make the use cases of data even broader than they are right now.”
The cost to buy a FBN membership in Canada is $800, which gives users access to all of the analytics, price transparency functions, benchmarking, maps, seed database, network analytics, plus access to the FBN store.
“Our goal is to keep this very affordable to farmers of all sizes, we don’t have acre fees or anything like that,” Meisner said.