Is there a digital strategy on your farm?

Yield maps, online records, input costs, financials — you’ve been faithfully collecting data on your farm for years. But if we asked if you had a data strategy for all that data, how would you answer?

“We’re at a time and place in ag where farmers need to define a digital strategy for their operation, but I don’t observe many have sat down and developed today,” says Ohio State University ag engineer John Fulton. “Establishing a digital strategy ensures that the farmer has control of the data. The core of your strategy is: Save, secure and share, as needed.”

Having a digital strategy is an outline of key ways to make the data more useful, starting with how to use it to evaluate revenue potential throughout the growing season. You want your data to help you assess the maximum profit opportunities including maximum yield potential and the variables that impact yield through the growing season, Fulton says.

Write it down

This strategy doesn’t have to be complicated, but you should write it down and share it with others on your farm team. Start with goals: What data and digital tools do you use or plan to use, and why? Who do you plan to share the data with? How do you define success, and what is your evaluation plan? And do you have an internal plan to store, share and secure data?

“You should have a short- and long-term strategy,” Fulton says. “The long-term plan is your database that you’ll use to make decisions. Your strategy should include technology, data management and the analytical component.

“You may have data, but you’ve never downloaded off the machine. You need to collect data,” Fulton says.

“Second, data needs to be organized. You may need to sit down and actually figure out what’s on your thumb drive and figure out what it is and what information it could provide.

“Organizing the data is a key first step that needs to be completed,” he says.

Lastly, make sure you have a backup of the in-cab display and other data.

Seek out centralization

Migrate data into one standardized and unified platform, suggests Agrian CEO Nishan Majarian. Having data scattered across a variety of applications, or point solutions, doesn’t make for a robust data strategy — it makes for future headaches. A broad platform with broad capabilities will allow all your precision, agronomy and compliance data, across all your crops, to talk. And when your data is combined and used together, it can be a powerful tool to improve yields, produce higher returns and maximize input investments — not just in the future, but right now.

Evaluate your options

Scrutinize the company that will need to stand behind your data strategy. Are they in it for the long haul? Or a novel technology looking to be sold?

“In recent years, the industry has seen a rise of venture capitalists driving point solutions that ultimately leverage the user’s data in an attempt to sell them something bigger down the line,” Majarian says.

“It’s an approach that often seeks to boost seed sales and push chemical products, while also aiming to disrupt the farmer’s relationship with their retail agronomist. Put your trust in independent technology companies that have transparent business models: selling you software to help power your decision-making,” he says.

What about security?

Use passwords, not just on the cloud but internally on laptops. That gives farmers the control they need. Any on-farm data storage should be locked up and fireproof. If it’s off-farm on a cloud, use the cyber security features that come with the service.

You’ll need to decide if and how you will share data. In a survey conducted by a group of universities, 90% of precision farmers are sharing data today; 44% are sharing data with three or more people, mainly seed reps and trusted agronomic consultants. Half of those surveyed say they find value in data warehousing and recommendations, such as prescriptions.

Who gets to see your data and why? What data gets shared and when? How will it be shared? Can you email it, put it on a thumb drive, or a cloud service, like Dropbox?

Next, determine how you will access your data. What happens to data if you chose to terminate the service? Can you sell or allow access to your data with others? How can you share data with others?

“The value of data and potential return on investment on data is dependent on making it accessible internally to the operation and to others providing services,” Fulton says.

Having access, say, to a yield map, immediately after harvest, is most valuable. Having it organized and knowing how it will be shared enables “decision-ready’ data.

To start this process, review the checklist above. The sooner you get this completed, the better you will feel about the usefulness of all that data you’re collecting.