Making Informed DecisionsPosted in: Technology By Chris Paterson March 1 2014
Wouldn’t it be great to have a photographic memory, to have instant recall of any piece of information the moment you needed it? Countless decisions need to be made over the course of a year on every farm. Consider your ability to make better decisions with more information.
The reality is that photographic memory, even when supplemented by the trusty note pad, would not be capable of managing all the information that is available to help us make good decisions — especially considering all the new information sources, such as equipment monitors, bin and soil sensors, weather stations, professional advisors, soil and tissue analytics, satellite imagery, grain markets, the Internet, and an ever growing list of new seed and pesticide choices. Unless our ability to process more information grows alongside the amount of information that’s available, a higher percentage will be forgotten and/or discarded. Efficiencies and opportunities get overlooked in an effort to be bigger and faster, and get things done..
Even the ultimate data collection system — say perhaps a human brain with a perfect memory — would not be enough to meet the future needs of farms, if it couldn’t efficiently communicate that data to third parties. These include banks and other institutions financing the operation, crop input dealers selling to the farm, landlords and any environmental or other regulatory bodies requiring reports.
I have been traveling to farms and agribusinesses throughout North America and several other continents for more than 20 years. As I reflect on the many trends I’ve seen develop, few have gathered such momentum, or progressed as quickly, as the move toward increased information-management and decision-supporting technologies on the farm.
Several factors are driving the pace. First, farm size and farm complexity are on the rise. As a result, many producers have smartphones or tablets and are regularly searching for better ways to leverage their mobile devices to manage information related to their farm operations. In fact, there are now thousands of farm-related apps that provide news, record information and perform calculations.
However, the producer soon discovers the technical limitations of these apps. Most are not effective at interacting with other apps or the farm’s integrated information management platform. Ultimately, most farms are evolving past the mobile apps in search of a more robust platform that mirrors the requirements of what they need to manage their farm. And, many want to do it wirelessly.
In many parts of North America, and in many crop sectors, reporting field and management data is no longer an option. It is a requirement of doing business. And it is inevitable that one day those requirements will apply to every crop, in every region.
In some cases reporting data is a matter of regulatory compliance, such as fertilizing in proximity to a water body, spreading manure or applying a pesticide in a populated area. In other cases, it’s the lenders or insurers who need to see your data in order to evaluate the risk of entering into a particular financing deal. Farms that can provide such data, in a clear and consistent manner, will have an advantage.
Another trend is the turnover of farmland, expected to happen at unprecedented volumes as the Baby Boomers look toward an exit strategy. Sellers and buyers now understand that farmland that is accompanied by production data is worth significantly more than generic farmland.
Perhaps the most significant of all the trends driving the need for farm data is consumer demand for more transparency, and the shareholders of those food companies that cater to the consumers.
Food consumers around the world have been bombarded with propaganda from all different directions about the safety of their food, and the sustainability of the production methods that produced it. They are keenly interested in what they are eating, and food retailers are working hard to comply. As a result, the world’s most influential food processors and consumer brands are rapidly changing the way they do business — especially in how they source their ingredients. Many food labels are already requiring comprehensive data on water usage, fertilizer efficiency, pesticide use, GMO status and carbon footprint. Sophisticated traceability programs have been developed, and farm-data management platforms are the link between food labels and what happens in the field. Our industry has a great story to tell the public, and it starts with each individual farm.
There is no downside to more effectively managing information on a farm. Done properly with the right system, it saves time and results in more profitable decisions. It also offers a competitive advantage with agribusinesses. And soon, it will be required. Even if you are blessed with a photographic memory, you will need to participate in this trend.
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