Benchmarking Shows Yield Potential Remaining in Field

July 5, 2015 07:00 AM
Benchmarking Shows Yield Potential Remaining in Field

Agriculture has entered the era of transformation. The intersection between technology, data, shared resources and collaboration is boosting producers toward greater profitability and overall effectiveness in farming. FarmLink offers a data analytics and data science platform that is the engine behind TrueHarvest benchmarking, aimed to help growers make more money either in the field or on balance sheets.

TrueHarvest functions as a peer-to-peer benchmarking platform for agriculture production. Benchmarking typically measures yield through absolute bushels, often comparing yield in a single year to a county average. However, yield is subject to a host of uncontrollable factors.

Over five years, FarmLink has collected yield data down to the granular level from combines leased to farmers. “We’ve built a quality database of yields and created a yield harvest index. In addition, we’ve collected data points related to non-controllable variables from many public sources. We correlate and collect 62 uncontrollable variables that affect yield – sun, soil, water, topography, and many others,” describes Paul Konrad, FarmLink’s managing director for business development.

TrueHarvest breaks down data to a microfield level and correlates it to a yield database. Individual fields, down to the zone level, are then compared to similar fields in similar conditions. Soil, slope, precipitation, and other factors create correlations and a peer-to-peer benchmark.

“The first thing a farmer or agronomist looks at is our yield map which shows how a field performed in absolute bushels,” Konrad explains. “We have our harvest and field database to create correlations and convert bushels per acre to a percentile performance basis. We compare like-to-like situations. You get a bell curve comparison between an acre in your field with acres in other fields that match those characteristics.”

In essence, TrueHarvest provides a tale of the tape based on concrete, actionable data. If a field is yielding 250 bu. per acre, but only performing at the fifty-fifth percentile, the data shows a point of interest. TrueHarvest data reveals the yield gap and displays the yield opportunity left in the field. Where does a producer want to focus resources, time and efforts? After benchmarking, producers can reallocate resources to areas of opportunity.

Once a producer and agronomic advisor decide what to do in a field, they can measure success by a year-over-year benchmark. The following year will show if a field has moved up or down the percentile curve based on management decisions.

Historically, farmers might compare themselves to the county average or tallies from the previous year. Jeff Dema, president, Grower Services, FarmLink, doesn’t feel either is a proper measurement. “Every year is unique and we’re measuring apples to apples. It’s crucial to measure fields that share the same characteristics and have been dealt the same hand. Precipitation, growing degree days, heating units: This helps create a fair comparison.”

Dema notes high bushels per acre don’t necessarily mean high performance. Conversely, low bushels per acre don’t necessarily mean poor performance. “120 bu. per acre corn may be at the eightieth percentile and if so, a farmer can cross that field off his worry list and move on to another location.”

Typically, benchmarking in agriculture relates to machinery or input costs per acre and hasn’t touched production agriculture. TrueHarvest corn and soybean data is backed with a 220-combine fleet. Wheat comparisons are available for the first time in 2015.

TrueHarvest builds revenue in two ways, according to Dema. First, it measures the effectiveness of farming decisions and shows what inputs worked. Second, it shows the potential remaining in a field that can be harnessed through better investment decisions. “If you’re considering tiling a field at the sixtieth percentile, it will cost a set amount of money. With tiling it jumps to the eightieth percentile. Would the difference in revenue pay for tiling?”

TrueHarvest is designed as an additive to help farmers and agronomists, emphasizes Konrad. “This is a baseline tool missing from prescriptive platforms. It tells you where to start and shows opportunity so you can set optimized yield goals by zone. You measure results year-over-year and keep learning.”

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