Manage field data points every 20 feet

It’s a daunting challenge managing all data on 100,000 fields totalling 30 million cropped acres 24/7/365, but it’s a task performed routinely at the Farmers Edge technology centre in Lethbridge.

The office is a busy place with more than 40 staff crunching data daily on every acre under contract, said Farmers Edge founder Curtis MacKinnon.

That includes all data points stretched 20 feet apart on all 100,000 fields totalling 30 million cropped acres. There are 25 billion records in the company’s data warehouse, and it has the largest imagery library in the industry. This is serious business.

“It’s crazy here. We’re processing data on 100,000 fields every day, all 30 million acres. Lethbridge is our software development centre. It’s our technology centre. It holds our web services team, and our image processing team that keeps the imagery service and data processing up and running,” MacKinnon said, adding that it all happens in Lethbridge.

“We run all our customer’s data every day to keep it current, right? There’s live view of data and there’s summary view. Anything that’s live view, the customer can view from their device at any time: machinery data, weather data, imagery data. Then there’s summary data such as how many acres did that machine cover today or how much fertilizer do I have in the bin?

“We also provide tools to track job costs. For instance, a farmer is deciding whether or not to spray a certain field. He can set up a job-cost analysis to find out exactly what his cost is on fuel, chemical, labour, machinery hours. Then he looks at the range of potential returns. That translates into a field cost per data point. You can carry that through to a profit analysis. The goal here is to create real time cost-revenue profit awareness so customers make better decisions.”

MacKinnon said every time a machine enters the field, there’s a new cost layer and a change in the cost/revenue picture. The processing engine grabs that job, evaluates it and updates the customer’s data and his cost/revenue picture. That change is instantly available to the customer. He said customers will have pre-budgeted in advance of seeding, but those are hypothetical numbers. Once the wheels turn and seed is in the ground, Farmers Edge deals with real-time numbers for each data point.

“We deal with all the factors at the data point level. You get information at every data point, every 20 feet. That information is analyzed to create what we call situational awareness. You enter that information for every field operation over and over starting with seed bed prep. Then at the end of the year when the harvest layer is created, you get a true representation of gross revenue for that field.

“So if I know that one particular data point grew 100 bushel wheat and wheat is selling for $5 a bushel, then we have $500 gross revenue for that point in the field. Then we calculate back to draw a profit map for that field.”

Some of this calculation is performed by staff, while others is performed automatically by technology developed by Farmers Edge. Farmers with older equipment are more likely to require the human touch. Newer machinery carries a great deal of automation and reporting features, so those fields are handled by computer.

“Of course the Achilles heel to precision agriculture is data entry. Garbage in, garbage out. We recognized this right from the start. That’s why we invested heavily in telematics and technology and devices that automatically record information. We know how hard it is to get a guy to make notes or enter information while he’s trying to farm.

“I know because I farm too. Making field notes and entering information is the last thing I want to do when I’m sitting at field’s edge in my seeding tractor, ready to roll. Our goal is to eliminate as many of the barriers as possible. Provide the customer with the least workload at his three busiest times of year.”

It would be serious for farmers if something happened to that massive volume of data and imagery. How does MacKinnon protect it?

“It’s all cloud. Cloud costs money, but we firmly believe in the value of it. We partner with cloud servers like Amazon and MicroSoft. We’re confident that the information is well protected.”

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