Make Data Work Harder, Smarter

August 20, 2016 02:48 AM

Consider these six tips to get the most from technology

If you don’t measure, you won’t know where to start—that’s Brad Beutke’s advice for farmers. Beutke, who presented on technology at a recent Farm Journal College event, says farm tech has quickly evolved the past few years, especially in regard to data collection, processing and analysis.

Here are a few helpful tips farmers can deploy on their operations to better use these valuable digital assets.

1. Equal area maps are more useful than equal interval maps. Beutke says equal area maps—also referred to as equal point maps—let users identify the best and worst parts of any given field, regardless of the actual differences. An equal interval map, on the other hand, can hide bad parts of the field in an overly broad zone where it doesn’t actually belong.

“With equal area, you’ll always see variability in your maps,” he says.

2. Clip images to field boundaries. Surrounding grassways, roadways, waterways and even neighboring fields can skew results of NDVI imagery, especially when the data has been “Kriged”—a method to blend data points in an attempt to tighten up the image resolution.

“It can put a zone in the field that’s not actually there,” Beutke says.

3. Back up NDVI images with a color photo. “There can be things on a NDVI image that might not make sense without a reference point,” Beutke says. 

For example, the shadow of a windmill or a low-lying cloud could end up looking like a bad spot in the field. A quick check of the spot against a color photo will confirm if this is the case, or if there is a real problem that needs to be scouted.

4. Flying a drone? Collect photos before video. For new drone owners, the first instinct might be to mount a video camera and start shooting. But unless you have a lot of extra time on your hands, collect photos instead.

Video quickly ties up a ton of data, which is significantly harder to store, share and annotate, says Greg Emerick, executive vice president of Sentera, a full-service drone provider.

“There are certainly instances where collecting video would be helpful, but it’s astronomical and unnecessary as a standard practice,” he says.

5. Buying a drone? Manage your expectations. Realistically, you probably don’t have time to collect images and process them over hundreds or thousands of acres, Beutke says. That doesn’t discount its value on the farm.

“A drone as a scouting tool and for research purposes is still probably a good idea,” he says.

Emerick’s advice boils down to two words: Start simple. Don’t be afraid to do a quick flight and snap just a couple of photos for general observation of your fields. If everything checks out, you might not need to collect hundreds of photos and potentially spend hours stitching them together.

“You can get caught up in the processes and miss the forest for the trees sometimes,” Emerick says.

6. Use images to figure out what to do next. If you take images early enough in the season, you can make any number of same-season management decisions. But later-season images can also prove useful, Beutke says.

“If you use aerial maps against final yield maps, you can figure out what happened to explain any difference between the two and make adjustments in years to come,” he says.

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