New systems help farmers use field-specific data to drive seed and agronomic decisions for top yields
By Charlene Finck and Ben Potter
Billy Beane had a big problem. The Oakland Athletics team salary ranked 28th in Major League Baseball, yet the owners still expected Beane, the general manager, to select a roster that was talented enough to make the playoffs. Against all odds, the team finished with a blistering 103 wins, a feat captured in the Michael Lewis book Moneyball and its namesake movie.
For Beane, data made all the difference. He had access to a mountain of numbers and used it to his advantage.
Farmers today have the same basic challenge. With stretched resources, they must select a winning seed lineup and match it with an agronomic program that brings out the best. Meanwhile, modern-day technologies collect more data than ever before.
For years, DuPont Pioneer has used the Right Seed, Right Acre approach for farmers. Increasingly, agribusi-nesses aggregate and distill farm data for smarter seed and agronomic decisions. Two seed companies and one machinery maker recently introduced new systems designed to do just that. The trick is turning information into intelligence targeted at specific fields.
"Working through a farmer’s regular seed dealer, we will use our Integrated Farming System (IFS) to provide specific prescriptions for each field with everything from the right seed to a VRT [variable-rate technology] seeding map that maximizes the yield potential of that specific field," explains John Raines, Integrated Farming Systems business lead for Monsanto.
The Integrated Farming System of the Future
The new Integrated Farming System from Monsanto is geared to use a mixture of public, private and privately developed farmer data to drive seed and agronomic decisions with an eye on the prize: higher yields with fewer inputs.
The system relies on an array of data to make field-specific recommendations.
"We’ve been working on this new offering for nearly a decade and use a wide range of public, private and privately developed data to feed algorithms that produce the field recommendations by yield environment," Raines notes.
The public data includes soil type and topography. The private data is provided by the farmer, and the privately developed data is proprietary data developed through Monsanto’s global seed production and seed research.
In what signals a paradigm shift in how key companies serve farmers, Monsanto recently announced its purchase of Precision Planting, a technology company with products that can put IFS recommendations in action. The VRT seeding offering will be available for DeKalb customers in 2014 with more details coming this fall.
"In the years ahead, we expect to have products that address nutrients, crop protection and water management," Raines adds. "We also expect to be compatible with other types of equipment in the marketplace."
Firsthand experience. The company is working with 40 research farmers who have used IFS on their farms. Leesburg, Ind., farmer Kip Tom is one of the first beta testers of the prescription approach.
"We’ve been impressed with the yield bumps that we have seen by using the recommendations," Tom says. "It has been really interesting to see the algorithms be developed and see how each data set relates to yield."
Tom Farms has used the system to vary planting rates for the past three years, using Precision Planting technology to vary seeding rates for both corn and soybeans.
Matching field knowledge with seed choices and agronomic systems for Tom and other farmers is critical to maximizing yields.
"Farmers in general are overwhelmed when picking up a seed catalog today," says Tom Burrus, president of Burrus Hybrids. "The choices and technologies are so plentiful that growers sometimes don’t know what to do, especially when they consider a multitude of soil types across farms."
To help out farmers, his company is working with MyFarms to offer the Data-Driven Farming System, which they tag as "the first fully integrated field-level planting plan."
Chris Fennig, managing director of MyFarms, is a fourth-generation Indiana farmer. But he says it was his years spent streamlining global supply chains that led to a revelation about how on-farm information can be used to benefit farmers.
The new system from Burrus and MyFarms uses proprietary test plot data and product rankings to help farmers cut through the data clutter and select the best seed for fields.
"We noticed a sizable gap between the team-oriented approach that companies like Airbus, Dell and Target take with their suppliers and how we as farmers work with seed, fertilizer and chemical suppliers," he explains.
The Burrus product recommendation leverages proprietary test plot data and product ratings to help customers identify the best seed hybrid and planting rate for each field. Farmers can also grant read-only or full-access permission levels to the data to trusted advisers.
"We’re addressing an industry pain point," Fennig notes. "Selecting seed is often a clumsy process, and it shouldn’t be in an age when farmers and suppliers know more than ever about the land they farm and the products offered."
Machinery play. In keeping with the paradigm shift, John Deere rolled out its MyJohnDeere.com web portal, a new centralized location to access and manage agronomic farm data.
"Farmers have been collecting yield maps for the past 15 years, but the data hasn’t been easy to use," says Jerry Roell, director of John Deere FarmSight. "There’s also value in aggregating the data."
As each of these systems—and others in the marketplace—evolve, the key is turning field-specific data into yield-building intelligence that produces more with less.