Farm data collection and farmer use analyzed

Value proposition and usability of digital details a big concern for producers looking to take advantage of data

Studies into precision and digital agriculture usually focus on how quickly farmers are adopting technologies such as GPS and variable rate tools.

“There wasn’t a lot known with what farmers were doing with the data they collected and how that’s channelled through the decision-making process, and ultimately leading to improved outcomes,” said Nathan DeLay from the Department of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University.

DeLay and his colleague Nathanael Thompson designed a study of large-scale corn and soybean producers in the United States to better understand how they use their agronomic data.

Information from 800 operations was collected, including the demographics of farm operators, the type of agronomic data they collected, and how the information is used.

“It was really a three-stage survey on their data collection, data decision-making, and evaluating those decisions,” DeLay said.

Data collection among survey respondents was common; 82 percent collect yield data, 77 percent collect soil data, 73 percent create GPS maps from their data, and 47 percent of respondents collect satellite or drone imagery.

“Most of them are collecting two or more sources of data, and once data has been collected most are making some decisions with that data,” DeLay said.

The survey found large farms are more likely to collect data, especially with satellite and drone imagery. For instance, farms with more than 5,000 acres were 51 percent more likely to collect imagery data than farms of 1,000 to 2,000 acres.

Young and post-secondary educated farmers were more likely to collect farm data, and rely on software.

“Farmers who are 50 to to 65, (there is) a big bump (in data usage that) occurs when they get a bachelor’s degree. Among those who are above 65 that bump occurs when they get any college,” DeLay said.

“Clearly, there is some signalling happening with education that indicates more specialized, more innovative farmers are the ones more likely to use software.”

Imagery data from a drone or satellite has the strongest relationship to education, with 38 percent of producers with a high-school diploma collecting imagery data, compared 59 percent of producers with a postgraduate degree.

He said the use of data and software programs give young and large farmers an advantage.

“Younger operations, larger operations with higher education attainment seem to be further along in this data revolution. They seem to be more likely to collect, make decisions, and use different advanced tools,” DeLay said.

Seven percent of responders do not collect any of the data sets included in the survey, and 36 percent of these respondents said data collection is too costly, while 19 percent find the benefits of doing so unclear.

Over half of farmers that don’t collector data perceive farm data to be unprofitable, and over one-third report uncertainty in how to use farm data once collected.

Only 10 percent of farmers who don’t use these data sets cited privacy concerns as the reason for not collecting farm data.

“Privacy was not a big concern. That was really surprising especially in light of some current events that are going on. Clearly it’s the value proposition and the usability of data that’s the bigger concern,” DeLay said.

“It’s not to say that privacy is not one of the concerns, it’s just that the profitability, the usability and the value proposition are the number one concerns.”

For the farmers who collect data, it has the largest influence on their nutrient management with 93 percent responding their fertilizer decisions are somewhat or highly influenced by data, 81 percent said seeding rates are influenced, and 71 percent said their drainage decisions are influenced.

DeLay said the big takeaway from the survey is the more “touch points” the farmers get on their data, the more tools they are using, and the more they are sharing with a trusted service provider, the more actionable their data is and the more likely they are to say it’s been yield improving.

He considered a touch point on the data to be every time the data is used or combined. For instance, yield monitor data used for a basic yield map can be layered with soil sample data, a software platform can use this data to analyze the best application rates for nutrients and seeding rates, and then the data can be shared with an agronomist.

“Having a full suite of data management (software) is really the way to go. It’s easy to say there is a silver bullet and some new technology is going to revolutionize the farm. But what we’re seeing is that it’s really about a comprehensive suite of technologies and data management practices that are yielding good outcomes,” DeLay said.

Farms using agronomic data to make decisions say the information helps them, with 81 percent of producers making data-driven fertilizer report positive outcomes, 72 percent of those making seeding rate decisions report a positive yield impact and 85 percent of growers that use collected data for drainage decisions said the data helped the activity.

Collection of multiple points of data also affected how satisfied respondents were in the end results. Sixty-four percent of respondents indicated a positive yield result from data-informed seeding-rate decisions when the farm only collects only one type of data, while 77 percent cited yield increases when three data collection points are used.

DeLay said it appears that individual data streams are made more actionable when combined with other data sources.

“Using a data platform and sharing it with someone like an agronomist are pretty influential and pretty important in that process,” he said.

“No one product is doing everything. So farmers are even using multiple software platforms of products to increase that analysis and those touch points.”

Software platforms are popular with young operators across all levels of education but adoption rises to nearly 70 percent for those with a post-graduate degree.

Fifteen percent of data-collecting farms neither use farm data software or share data with outside service providers.

Farmers that use at least one data service platform were asked to identify all of the products to which they subscribe.

The most widely used software product is Climate FieldView, which is used by more than half of surveyed software subscribers.

Forty-four percent use John Deere Operations Center, while 22 percent use Case IH’s AFS Software platform, 21 percent use Trimble, 19 percent use Farmers Business Network, 14 percent use Corteva’s Encirca, 10 percent use Farmers Edge, and nine percent Granular.

Almost one-fourth of survey respondents subscribe to a service not listed in the survey.

Seventy percent of software users subscribe to more than one product, and 63 percent of subscribers receive seed or fertilizer prescriptions from their software.

However, farmers do not treat software recommendations as directives, with only 44 percent following their software recommendations closely and 52 percent follow somewhat closely.

On average, farms use between two and three software platforms, but almost 90 percent subscribe to three platforms or fewer.

The survey asked farmers who share data with service providers how closely they follow the service providers recommendations, and found a disconnect with how closely they are willing to follow their software providers recommendations versus their service providers recommendations.

“It seems that farmers are more inclined to follow their software providers recommendations very closely, than those provided by their agronomists of their input supplier,” DeLay said.

“It could be the fact that if you’ve got an agronomist working with an input supplier, perhaps you deem the recommendations provided by them to be sort of tied to some sales proposition for inputs, and you might consider the software that you’re using more being more agnostic as far as that goes.”

He said the survey shows that if farmers are making the decision with their data, they are very likely to report a positive yield outcome.

“Farmers that are creating more touch points with their data, farmers that are using some sort of data software, farmers that are sharing data with service providers like an agronomist, those farmers are much more likely to report positive outcomes, and much more likely to report their data being more actionable.”

You can read the study online here.

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