Validating yield data. Are you doing it?

EVERY SEASON GROWERS INVEST an abundance of time, energy and money into their crops in the hopes of producing a high-quality and profitable yield. While technology has helped to increase efficiencies, rising labor and inputs costs consistently require growers to do more with a lot less. Maintaining profitability means working smarter. One of the ways growers can disrupt the system is to validate their yield data. The good news is that many operations are already well positioned to begin the process. With a few minor tweaks to their workflow, growers can track a crop’s agronomic and financial performance to make better, more profitable decisions year over year.

Seeing the Big Picture
“Many growers are utilizing their elevator scale tickets, as well as collection devices on their
combines and machines,” says Bryant Boyer, Proagrica Southwest Territory Sales Manager.
“Validating yield data means understanding how many pounds or bushels came off of a
particular field and then using technology to break down how the fields and farming practices
are performing once the data is verified.”

By matching the yield data to a specific field or block, growers begin to see which inputs and
management practices result in the highest performance. Boyer encourages growers to think
in terms of agronomic performance (how many bushels) and financial performance (output or
dividends paid against the cost of production).

“Growers do all this work throughout the year: selecting hybrids, fertilizing the crop, and
continually managing things to make the crop profitable,” Boyer says. “Being able to see how
the different decisions played out in terms of your performance is bringing all those pieces
together and understanding how the field and crop practices performed. It validates your
farming practices and gives you a full picture of performance at the end of
the season.”

“Our production costs continue to increase year after year. Everyone must find new ways to be more efficient and precise to grow their craft.”

Bryant Boyer

Getting Started The first step is to have equipment that can capture crop data. Most operations have this technology in some respect. But while many growers have access to field data on their GIS-enabled tractors or collection data on their combines, not everyone is well-versed in how to collect it, organize it, interpret it and use it to make decisions.

Sometimes this is as simple as using a thumb drive to pull the data off the equipment monitor or downloading it from the cloud. Other times, the process requires a little more technical know-how. Boyer, whose family has been validating yield data on their corn and soybean farm for 15 years, adds that calibration is key.

“As machines are going through a field and collecting the data, there are often some overlaps or uncalibrated data collection devices, these challenges can skew the data,” he says. “I think the first thing is being able to go and clean up that data and analyze what that combine was collecting versus your scale tickets in terms of your actual pounds or bushels that was harvested off the field. This can be used to better post-calibrate that data and ensure the information is accurate.”

The next step is to work with an agronomist, retailer or other knowledgeable agriculture professional who can help analyze and interpret the data. Growers need to know what they’re looking at to effectively analyze the data, and make future decisions based off it. Growers have the opportunity to collect data on many applications field by field. These color-coordinated field application maps can give insights about fertilization, irrigation and plant health based on various criteria; however, none of these things happened in isolation. Boyer suggests taking things a step further.

“For someone who is more advanced in the process of yield validation,” he says, “it can be helpful to overlay other as-applied maps of planting, fertilizing, soil types, etc. to understand how these different variables correlated with yield, and also to analyze decisions they’ve made in that cropping year.”

Using the Data to Drive Decisions
As early adopters of yield validation technology and processes, Boyer’s family has been able to determine what seed hybrids work best in specific fields, areas and regions, better manage fertilizer applications and costs, and adopt minimum till and no-till practices to reduce labor and fuel expenses as well as creating healthier soils. These changes have been made over the course of many seasons. Fortunately, it’s never too late to start.

“In today’s day and age, crop prices are low, and inputs are very, very high. We have thinner and thinner profit margins,” Boyer says. “The key takeaway is that you’re investing in the future of your operation. Once you understand how your operation is performing, you’ll have better data and knowledge to make better decisions that ideally will lead to success. Yield validation helps you make a lot of incremental changes to better manage your operation and increase profitability.”

Q&A with Bryant Boyer, Sirrus Southwest Territory Sales Manager

What prevents growers from adopting yield validation technology?

Bryant Boyer: I think there are several barriers. The first one is that many growers are technology averse. It’s not something their fathers or grandfathers used in the past, so they’re a little more hesitant to jump in and adopt something like that. I think that has been one of the main issues that has plagued our industry for a long time, but that is beginning to change.

For the folks that are using technology, however, they don’t always trust the quality of the data, especially if they aren’t working with someone or they don’t have the know-how to calibrate the technology and collect and clean up the data. Other growers may not have the money to invest in the equipment, which can be expensive.

“Validating yield data means understanding how many pounds or bushels came off of a particular field and then using technology to break down how the fields and farming practices are performing once the data is verified.”

Bryant Boyer

How long does it take an operation to get accustomed to validating yield data?

Boyer: There are different phases of adoption, and different producers are going to have different goals or results that they want to obtain. My family owns a corn and soybean operation, and we were early adopters of this technology. When we first started, we had to learn how the data was being expressed and displayed. You would get all these colorful maps at the end of the growing season. It was an opportunity for us and many growers in our same situation to start to understand in rough terms how we were performing.

But the maps and data weren’t drastically changing any of our management decisions right away. It started as something to keep in the back of our heads. As time evolved and some of the data collection and equipment has evolved with it, it has become more imperative to use yield data. The technology itself provides more data and access, giving users a way to make better decisions. In the subsequent years, we have used the data to determine how we planned for upcoming cropping seasons, adjusting some of the cropping practices and management decisions in particular fields.

What is the value of validating yield data?

Boyer: The biggest thing is decision making. As growers pre-plan for the following year or, potentially, multiple years in advance, looking at the data will better inform, more profitable decisions. Validating yield data will indicate how these decisions impact the farm, the field, the crop and, ultimately, the operational profitability.

What made you personally start validating your yield data?

Boyer: We are always trying to make our operation more efficient, more profitable and more productive. Our production costs continue to increase year after year. Everyone must find new ways to be more efficient and more precise to grow their craft. It was with all these things in mind that we were motivated to begin utilizing these technologies.

How do you use Sirrus to support your yield validation?

Boyer: We use Sirrus to analyze data throughout the growing season. Some of the premium features, such as the advanced fertilizer recommendation editor and variety tech sheets, help us to manage our scouting, soil sampling and things of that nature. We collect all our data through Sirrus. Using the FarmRite function, we can create prescriptions and recommendations based on various soil types or field conditions. It helps us to maximize our fertility, which maximizes our products and performance on every field.


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