Data-driven farming – taking the farmer to a new level of efficiency
Farmers are already collecting mountains of information every year, with scope to collect much more. But how can you make use of it all? Welcome to the exciting world of data-driven farming.
Harvesting data may seem a trivial matter compared to harvesting grain, rape or silage, but as the years go by it will become increasingly important. Already, some arable farmers are collecting lorry-loads of information from yields, soil-mapping, fertilizer applications and weather data, while a growing number of livestock farmers are capturing performance and health data on cattle and sheep. It’s an area that can only expand.
When did it start?
Agriculture has always been an industry where numbers are important – whether it was how much nitrogen you applied, how much weight lambs and calves have gained, how much fuel you used or how many hours since the tractor’s last service – so it lends itself nicely to being a generator of lots and lots of data.
But the output of farm-related data has snowballed since high-tech farming practices such as variable rate application, yield mapping, EID tagging and livestock scanning came on the scene.
Where does this data come from?
Farm offices are beginning to be bombarded by stats on soils, machinery, animal health, weather and crops.
At the same time more and more machinery is sprouting sensors, cameras and other slightly Big Brother-like equipment to provide operators with up-to-the-minute information on yields, forward speed and fuel use.
Other sensors, such as those used in Deere’s Field Connect, can be buried in the ground to monitor soil moisture. Meanwhile, grain store temperature sensors are churning out info round the clock and high-end weather stations can tell you the exact temperature, rainfall and humidity on any day in the last five years.
Most new combines are able to record some level of yield data and many have a GPS receiver, so you know exactly where the bad places are. Soil samples are taken more frequently and modern day management means information is stored on computers and tablets rather than scribbled illegibly onto notepads. This has made data more accessible and easier to share than ever before.
More recently, telematics has encouraged extra reliance on data services, particularly for harvesting equipment. It provides a way of measuring every detail of a machine’s performance – where it is, what it’s doing and how much fuel it’s using – and relaying it back to the farm office.
For livestock, the use of EID tags linked to hand-held devices has made it easier than ever to record performance and health data on individual animals, such as growth rates and incidence of ailments. And as the cost of scanning equipment has fallen, more and more farmers are using these tools to monitor key carcass traits such as back fat depth and eye muscle area on live animals.