Data Dork: Data Services to Boost Human Intelligence

Data Dork: Data Services to Boost Human Intelligence

In the January 2014 issue, we looked at the power core of intelligence you, as a farmer, already possess. The next step is to evaluate the data services you might use to augment your human intelligence:

Analytics, purchased one model at a time: C- Many analytic models look good on the surface but are quite difficult to properly use together. Layering is important in intelligence. The more you have to layer, the higher the probability you’ll create a “meatball sundae,” especially if each layer isn’t carefully integrated. Do-it-yourself analytics aren’t a good idea, except for the most sophisticated of operations with a top-notch data adviser. 

Until agronomists and retailers have more practice with data science, use well-vetted, “all-in-one” services. A mediocre but accurate set of analytic tools is far better than poor integration of the best tools.  

Benchmarking: D- The most important analytic tool for a farmer is benchmarking because it helps hold advisers accountable for their advice (or new products for measurable performance increases). Too often, we look at yield versus performance. County averages are almost meaningless when soil structures change by field zone. Likewise, you need to be able to isolate variables.  Was it the nutrient management plan that pulled through or the weather?  

Fortunately, there are good benchmarking tools available. Chances are  you’re not using them, though, because they’ve had significant issues in cracking traditional distribution channels for farmers.  

Current state of prescription or prediction agriculture: C , projected future state: A Science and data show the precise use of inputs in specific portions of fields will increase yield, reduce input costs and/or lessen environmental impact. Services such as Echelon, Monsanto’s Integrated Farming Services, DuPont Pioneer’s Encirca and Winfield’s R7 offer advice on how to proceed. 

These services are new and often not completely transparent about how calculations are tabulated, leaving a farmer with little ability to cross-check with advisers. Over time, the best will prove themselves. For now, use them as one tool rather than a magic solution.  

Prescription services will almost always be offered by large agribusiness, particularly seed companies that have collected mountains of science and data. Farmers often mistakenly view these services as essentially the same because they include similar features (imagery, zoning, calculators, etc). But, make no mistake, the core components vary by service. 

One program might focus on soil science while another works on imagery and in-season changes in nutrients and yet another builds on the relationship between the farmer, the agronomist and other advisers. As a farmer, you picked your input provider based on reliability, services, price, etc. As a result, I recommend using the service offered by your most trusted adviser. 

Make sure you look beyond the software’s usability as a farm management tool and information aggregator, and evaluate the sophistication of the mathematics and variables going into the calculation. You should already have a solid technology services platform in place before looking into prescription services.  

For more information on how intelligence and
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