Note: We've added a video with the sources of this story who elaborate further on the topics covered in this story. Check it out at the end of the story.
It’s easy to spend time discussing the value of big data and how it may change the way you farm, but getting firmly on the road to putting information to work may mean building the road first. “The first step is to have the proper precision agriculture technologies, such as guidance, variable rate and yield monitoring, in place and have experience with it,” say John Fulton, associate professor of ag engineering, Ohio State University.
Fulton says the growing trend toward sharing information brings a rise in telematics, or wireless technologies, to distribute data. And with cloud computing, it’s important that your farm’s “data infrastructure” is more robust than in the past.
Fulton notes the industry has gotten by with slower data connections — partly because it had to. Yet, the increase in information that must be shared will intensify the need for higher-speed connections. “Looking ahead, 4G [networks] to gain both uplink and downlink rates, consistent data linkage, and security to more large amounts of data in real time between machines and the cloud will become necessary,” he says.
The price to pay
Given the rising need to not only collect information but to move it to the cloud for easier interaction between advisers and other information providers, Fulton says “solid data infrastructure will be necessary in the future for farmers to take advantage of different prescriptive services being offered. I see farmers in the future working with eight to 10 different companies, each requiring different data from the farmer to provide information, prescriptions or recommendations back.”
Given that future, he says ensuring data is stored in a location allowing for portability or mobility will be important to take advantage of these services and product offerings.
Fulton notes as farmers get more involved with this information flow, the process may “generate more questions about products, rates and other aspects for the farm operation. But the goal is to improve decisions.”
His advice is to collect quality data today to set yourself up for opportunities in the future, especially prescriptive services. Four to eight years of quality yield data will “help drive field-by-field prescriptions and help develop proper management zones,” he says.
Making a statement
The ag data industry knows the value of a more robust data infrastructure. USDA has invested in broadband systems for rural communities and supported efforts to bring a “bigger pipe” to the farm. Laura Donaldson, product manager for John Deere, notes that the industry is concerned about the issue. Near Washington, D.C., John Deere has conducted a “Fieldtrip to the Farm” event, where legislative staffers travel to a farm and get a look at the day in the life of a farmer.
“For data infrastructure companies, they focus on services where the most people are,” she says. “For us, we’re concerned about where the tractors are. We want to make sure that customers have access to strong [Internet] service for their farms.”
The goal of the farm tours was for policymakers to understand that information services are becoming more important to food production, and that broadband in the country is important, too.
“The reaction was incredible; the education level we were able to provide for those legislative staffers was great. They were not only excited about being around harvest [but also] planting in the following spring, and saw the need for having access to good-quality Internet from a remote location,” Donaldson says.
As farmers turn to more sophisticated data tools, the infrastructure will have to keep up.