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Turning data into knowledge

In agriculture there are a lot of decisions to be made, all the time. And some of those decisions with regard to deploying farm resources can be pretty complicated. What if you could enter a few pieces of information into your computer and get back an answer to some key questions? That's a simple look at the idea behind CropZilla a new farm modeling software that is built based on the specifications of your equipment, and what Brian Watkins, founder, calls "commonsense input of the farmer."

A computer model is different than a simple collection of maps - instead the model is the analytical engine that takes the data you have and helps create information to make decisions.

For example, how might your farm benefit from a folding corn head versus a standard corn head design? There are efficiencies to be had from that kind of decision, but what is the true impact? Watkins notes, however, that CropZilla might not only give you an answer about added bushels per acre you could harvest on a daily basis. "It might also note you would need bigger grain carts or a change in your semi for transport," he says.

The firm, which is a startup developing a business out of a kind of entrepreneurial incubator in Columbus, Ohio, has been working with farmers for about seven months. They work with your information to create the model, so setup is more than downloading map information into a program. "With our model we come to the farm, gather information about equipment and customize it for your farm," Watkins says.

For now, the service is software based, but Watkins notes that it is developing a data gathering tool that would interface with a machine's ISOBUS port to pick up information from each machine for use in further analysis. "We started on the analytical end," he says. "We're 90% there with data that's already on the farm. With data loggers on equipment you can measure time in the field and how that's affected by the shape and size of equipment, including travel time, fill time and all the logistics of harvest."

The challenge is that farms are collecting a wide range of information, and have for a very long time. For example, from the beginning even the most basic yield monitor introduced in the 1990s was getting more than yield data. That unit was recording every second of combine operation, and it was possible to know when a machine was moving or standing idle. That one piece of information alone would show an operation how efficient they were at harvest.

"You can plug that information into CropZilla now," Watkins says. "We're modeling time in the field, for every field. That's why I built this thing. We wanted to know when machines were working and when they were just standing there."

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