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Small Data a Big Deal

03:05AM Jul 26, 2014
Precision Technology

Here’s something you probably don’t hear much about: Big data is only as good as the small data it’s based upon—the former is virtually useless if the latter isn’t solid. Yet, too often, foundational data sets on the farm are lacking or don’t exist, according to Terry Griffin, an independent data consultant based in Bryant, Ark.

Griffin notes that producers who learn how to gather and use small data to improve their farming operation are then able to transition to using big data with better results.

Pat Reeg, director of the On-Farm Network for the Iowa Soybean Association, advises farmers to start the process by identifying two or three goals small data can help them achieve.

"Use the data generated from your precision agriculture equipment to look for ways to enhance your operational efficiency," he suggests.

"Another goal would be to use data to review input expenditures to identify areas where you can maximize return on investment by validating products and practices."

Producers participating in the On-Farm Network use replicated strip trials for just those purposes. Results from these trials are available on the Iowa Soybean Association website at

Bear in mind the goals and decisions you make are only as good as the data they’re based upon, so calibrated yield monitors are a must, Griffin adds. Reeg offers these considerations:

  • Make sure the most current firmware is installed in your yield monitor.
  • Follow the pre-season checklist provided by your yield monitor manufacturer. This can be found in the manual or at the manufacturer’s website. Check the hardware, including the electrical harnesses, flow sensor, impact plate, load cell, moisture sensor, elevator speed sensor and ground speed sensor for problems.
  • Calibrate (distance, temperature, vibration, moisture, grain weight, stop height) using the procedure recommended for your yield monitor.
  • Last but not least, back up and save raw data in multiple places and off site. Also, back up raw data periodically during the season.